Jonathan Turley Explains What’s Going on With the Trump Jury

News & Politics

It wasn’t shocking to learn that the jury in the Trump case over his perfectly legal nondisclosure agreement was so confused by the insane jury instructions that they requested to hear them again. It’s been confusing for all of us, but thankfully, we have GWU law professor Jonathan Turley to help break everything down for us and explain what’s going on.

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“Judge Merchan has erred on the side of inclusion. There was a subsequent request to add more and he approved it. There is another note from the jury,” he said at the start of a long thread on X/Twitter Thursday. “The jury is asking for instructions on count one and how to deal with evidence and the inference to be drawn from evidence. He will read pages 7-35.”

Turley continued:

The inference instructions are interesting. It is not the corroboration or perjury material that would have presumably focused on Cohen. However, the inference sections would go to how much that can read into the implications of testimony. Much of Cohen’s testimony did not concretely establish knowledge or intent by Trump but the prosecutors insisted that they could infer from that evidence… Likewise, Pecker’s testimony tied his actions to the election and the question is how much can the jury infer from the accounts of the Trump Tower meeting that Trump knew and approved of this effort. …I should have said better than good news. The corroboration and perjury instructions would have suggested that Cohen was the stumbling block. This goes to the question of weight that can be given to these accounts.  Notably, they are asking for mostly Pecker’s account but also have a request for a Cohen passage.

“The jury specifically raised the ‘rain metaphor’ in their request for the readback. That metaphor is meant to suggest that observing some facts can confirm the occurrence of other prior facts like seeing umbrellas to show that it has rained. The defense has obviously resisted the sweeping inferences from the prosecution,” Turley continued. “The instructions state that you can draw an inference from any fact that is proven.  Hence the rain metaphor. If you go to bed that it was not raining, but in the morning you see wet grounds and people carrying umbrellas. However, the inference must not be speculative but a natural conclusion from a previously established fact.”

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Turley also expressed confusion about why Judge Merchan would only read the instructions to the jury rather than also provide them with a written copy, saying it was “so illogical and inefficient in my view.”

“It is like returning the proceedings back to an oral tradition before the advent of writing,” he continued. “It is better than cave drawings but it leaves the matter to the notes of jurors to furiously write down snippets. Why? These instructions were carefully fought over and considered by the judge and counsel. One would think that the interests of justice would be served by having the language before the jury as they deliberated. Instead, they have to have it read to them like toddlers after long delays to come into the courtroom and work out what portions will be read. It is entirely counterintuitive in my view.”

Turley concluded that “it is hard to see if the inference instruction that the jury wanted to hear came up with regard to Cohen or more generally to the evidence in the case.”

I don’t know if that helps, but on his blog, Turley also argued that acquittal would be nearly impossible and that the best Trump can get is a hung jury.

“Given the instructions and the errors in this trial, it would seem that an acquittal is almost beyond the realm of possibility. That leaves either a hung jury or a conviction. However, the framing of this case and failure to protect the rights of the defendant have undermined the perceived legitimacy of the proceedings and any possible verdict,” he writes. “With Trump in a tight cage, Merchan just left it for the jury to deliver the coup de grace. We will see. I remain hopeful that a couple jurors will balk at this manufactured criminal theory. Canned hunts are great for trophies, not so much for trials.”

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