Opening statements expected Monday at Trump’s criminal trial

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Opening statements expected Monday at Trump’s criminal trial

Opening arguments are set to start Monday at the New York trial of Donald Trump, the first criminal case ever brought against a former U.S. president.

In addressing the 12-member jury, prosecutors are likely to allege that Trump schemed in 2016 — just ahead of his successful White House campaign — to hide hush money payments to two women to cover up their claims of alleged extramarital affairs with him.

Prosecutors are contending that Trump was seeking to keep compromising information about his private life from voters just before they cast ballots eight years ago.

But Trump’s lawyers, aside from denying the affairs occurred, are likely to tell the jury that business records of Trump’s payments to Michael Cohen, were allegedly to reimburse him for legal work, not for $130,000 in hush money Cohen claims he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels.

Cohen, a convicted perjurer, was Trump’s one-time political fixer and personal lawyer, but has turned against the former president and is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution.

As he came to court one day last week, Trump told reporters, “I was paying a lawyer and marked it down as a legal expense. That’s exactly what it was.”

Jury seated last week

Seven men and five women were seated on the jury last Thursday to hear the evidence in a trial that could last six weeks. The jury includes two lawyers, six people who are employed at businesses, two who work in the education field, a health care worker and an engineer.

Another six alternates were picked but will only help decide the case if one or more of them of the alternates is needed to replace one of the 12 jurors for some reason. None of the 18 has been publicly identified.

Some of the jurors acknowledged to New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan and Trump’s defense lawyers that, in recent years they had expressed negative views about the 77-year-old former president, but all said they could put those views aside and judge the case fairly. A handful said they barely follow the news of the day.

Trump was president from 2017 to 2021 and is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in this year’s November 5 election. He has denied the affairs involving Daniels and Karen McDougal, a one-time Playmate of the Year, and all 34 felony counts in the indictment filed against him a year ago.

Trump has often assailed Judge Merchan in his social media posts and called the case “election interference” as he seeks to reclaim the presidency.

Prosecutors have contended that Trump several times has violated Merchan’s gag order prohibiting him from disparaging key participants in the case, although the judge excluded himself from the edict.

Merchan has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to listen to demands by prosecutors that Trump be held in contempt of court and fined. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

Eventually, Trump could take the witness stand to defend himself, depending on how he and his lawyers view the prosecutors’ evidence.

Since Trump is required to be in court, the case almost certainly will limit his time on the campaign trail as he runs for the second straight election cycle against President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

On an off day for the trial, Trump headed to Wilmington, North Carolina, for a rally Saturday night, but the event was called off as a torrential rainstorm swept through the city.

Possibility of prison

Trump stands accused of hiding the $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the month before the 2016 election to keep her from talking publicly about her claim that she had a one-night tryst with him at a celebrity golf tournament a decade earlier. That was less than four months after Trump’s wife, Melania, had given birth to Barron, the couple’s son, who is now 18 years old.

In a second instance, the indictment cites McDougal’s claim that she had a monthslong affair with Trump and was paid $150,000 by a tabloid publisher who bought the rights to her story and then, at Trump’s urging, killed the article.

Trump has denied both affairs, including that he directed Cohen to make the payment to Daniels and then reimbursed him during the first year of his presidency in 2017.

Altering his company’s ledgers would be a misdemeanor offense, but to convict Trump of a more serious felony, prosecutors will have to convince jurors he committed an underlying crime, such as trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by keeping information about the alleged affairs from voters.

It is not illegal to pay hush money, and Trump might claim the payments were made simply to avoid disclosure of personally compromising moments of his life, not to try to influence the 2016 election.

The jury will have to reach a unanimous decision of either a guilty verdict or acquittal. If the jurors fail to agree, there would be what is called a hung jury, leaving the prosecutors to decide whether to seek a new trial.

Each of the charges carries the possibility of a four-year prison term, although Trump is certain to appeal any guilty verdict and sentence.

The New York case is one of an unprecedented four criminal indictments Trump is facing, encompassing 88 charges, all of which he has denied. The hush money trial, however, could be the only one that occurs before the November election.

Two of the other indictments — one state and one federal — accuse him of illegally trying to upend his 2020 loss, while the third alleges he illegally took hundreds of highly classified national security documents with him to his oceanside Florida estate when his presidential term ended, and then refused requests by investigators to return them.

No firm trial dates have been set in any of those three cases, and Trump has sought to push the start dates to after the election.

If he wins, he could seek to have the federal charges dismissed. In any event, if he assumes power again, he would not be tried during his presidency.

SOURCE

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