Trump’s hush money trial enters its final stage. The Independent answers your questions

Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial is approaching its final phase, with the 12-person jury soon set to determine the former president’s fate.

This trial has brought a parade of intriguing figures to New York, both inside and out of the courtroom — from the trial witnesses such as porn star Stormy Daniels and Mr Trump’s former “fixer” Michael Cohen to surprise visits from MAGA loyalists, including Colorado Rep Lauren Boebert and House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The Independent has been covering the historic trial live from the courthouse each day.

Ahead of closing arguments, senior reporter Alex Woodward and general news reporter Ariana Baio held a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” forum to answer your questions about the case:

Q: Can you describe your day-to-day experience while covering the trial? What are things like outside the courthouse, especially the crowd’s reaction to members of the press?

Alex: It’s a long day! There’s no guarantee that we can get in an overflow courtroom so we start lining up around 5am on days where we know there will be a lot of press trying to get inside – like when Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen were on the stand.

We hang in line across the street from the courthouse and drink coffee for a few hours before court officers hand out slips of paper that act as our sort of permission slip to come back in. And then we’re inside all day with a brief break for lunch.

We can bring our laptops and phones into the room, so we’re able to do all the updates, but there’s sometimes a mad dash to charge everything if the day goes long (and it does). The anti-Trump crowds hassle the network camera crews that are set up across from the court, but nothing wild.

Q: Do you think his cronies are actually achieving anything by attending? If so, what?

Ariana: Yes and no.

No because many of their appearances are for show only. They’re just racking up brownie points with Donald Trump – the presumed Republican Party nominee – and his allies.

Trump is flanked by his ‘surrogates’ at the courthouse (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Trump is flanked by his ‘surrogates’ at the courthouse (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Yes because his surrogates are serving as his voice to complain about the trial and judge while he can’t. The judge gagged Trump so he is not allowed to speak about witnesses, prosecutors, jurors, court staff member or their families – as well as the judge’s family.

Q: If you could put a soundtrack to the trial, what would it be and why?

Ariana: Incredible question. My head tells me The Godfather soundtrack but my heart says a 40-hour loop of white noise.

Alex: Amazing question. Throw some Twin Peaks score in there and it wouldn’t be that weird.

Q: As a casual observer, it seems like most of the prosecution’s witnesses are there to present the background, and that the only witness to present evidence directly relevant to the charges is Cohen. If that’s true, the entire case comes down to his credibility. Am I missing something?

Also, I believe Trump’s lawyers, I think in their opening statement, have denied that he had sex with Stormy Daniels. The jurors may believe otherwise after hearing her testimony. Can/should/will the prosecution use that in their closing remarks to impeach the credibility of the defense?

Alex: Prosecutors spent a lot of time getting testimony on the context of it all – Trump had a catch-and-kill agreement with his attorney and a tabloid publisher, who they used to help find stories and then bury them in NDAs under the guise of publishing agreements (for stories that were never published).

Former president Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Monday 20 May 2024 (Steven Hirsch/AP)
Former president Donald Trump speaks to reporters at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Monday 20 May 2024 (Steven Hirsch/AP)

And yeah, Cohen is the only one who can say that Trump spoke to him about that. Of course, Trump isn’t charged for that stuff. That’s all dubious but legal. Jurors don’t have to believe Cohen’s life story but they can’t ignore mounds of documents, emails and text messages tying Cohen to Trump, including checks he signed in big ol’ Sharpie ink.

As for Daniels, it doesn’t matter if Trump did or didn’t have sex with her. Prosecutors wanted to show why Trump would want to hide her story, so that’s the motive, and it’ll be really helpful to understand why Trump would want to keep that stuff out of the press in the immediate aftermath of the Access Hollywood tape being published. Trump signed the NDA after all. It tests the credibility of the defense, but Trump has always been adamant about saying he’s never done anything wrong – something his lawyers are arguing in court on a daily basis.

Q: How long until we get a verdict? How do you see this ending for Trump?

Alex: We could get a verdict as soon as next Wednesday. Closing arguments start on Tuesday and deliberations could begin the next day if they’re able to come back – we’ve been off on all Wednesdays so far but Judge Merchan wants to keep things rolling.

They’ll keep deliberating the rest of the week and next week or however long they need, or there will be a hung jury if they just can’t come up with a decision. How it ends depends on what the jury decides, but the judge’s instructions to the jury – which we’ll see this week – will be extremely clarifying for how they think about the case and the evidence they see.

Former President Donald Trump with his defense lawyers Emil Bove and Todd Blanche and prosecutor Matthew Colangelo before Justice Juan Merchan (REUTERS)
Former President Donald Trump with his defense lawyers Emil Bove and Todd Blanche and prosecutor Matthew Colangelo before Justice Juan Merchan (REUTERS)

Q: What are you seeing outside the courtroom in terms of Trump supporters vs protestors who are anti-Trump? Small numbers of each? More from one side than the other?

Alex: Definitely small numbers for both. Yesterday Trump claimed there were big crowds a few blocks away and weren’t allowed near the courthouse. That’s not true at all – a small crowd typically shows up in the late morning and hangs around through the early afternoon in a designated area across the street from the courthouse.

The NYPD has set up a wide perimeter of barricades specifically for them. There are a handful of regular anti-Trump protesters who show up in the park in an adjacent space that’s set up for them. And then there are pro- and anti-Trump members of the public, who stand in line all morning for a chance to get inside.

Q: Is he really audibly passing gas?

Alex: I truly wish I knew the answer to this. He dozes off and eats a lot of mints.

This has been edited for length and clarity.