Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Before Trump’s Hush Money Trial: What You Need to Know!

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson Jun1,2024

The first criminal trial of any U.S. president is set to begin Monday, when former President Trump stands trial for his role in a hush money deal with a porn actress ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump for months has sought to push back the start of his first criminal trial, launching a series of last-ditch efforts to delay the case indefinitely with little success.

Now, for six weeks or more, Trump will be forced off the campaign trail and into a seat at the defense table of a Manhattan courtroom where a panel of 12 New Yorkers will decide whether to make him a convicted felon before Election Day.

A cast of high-profile witnesses is expected to testify, from top aides on Trump’s 2016 campaign and Trump Organization executives to once-unknown individuals who sought to sell salacious stories about Trump and the media executives who helped “catch-and-kill” their tales.

Here are five things to know before it begins.

A 2016 hush money payment  

The case revolves around a hush money payment made by Trump’s ex-fixer, Michael Cohen, to porn actress Stormy Daniels aimed at concealing an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, who was then a presidential candidate in the 2016 election. Trump denies an affair. 

Cohen paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 so that she would keep quiet. Trump paid Cohen back for executing the deal, and Trump’s company logged those reimbursements as legal expenses – which the Manhattan district attorney claims was unlawful.  

But the story prosecutors will tell at trial hardly stops there. Instead, they’ll attempt to portray the payment to Daniels as a small piece of a broader “catch-and-kill” scheme to quash negative gossip about Trump ahead of the election. 

Two other payoffs – a $30,000 deal with a doorman at Trump Tower who claimed Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock with a building employee, and a $150,000 payoff to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also alleges an affair with Trump – are expected to be featured prominently by the state. 

Trump denies both of their salacious accusations.

Trump faces 34 felony counts – and possible prison time 

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, which stem from his reimbursements to Cohen after arranging the hush money deal with Daniels. Trump, who has denied the affair, pleaded not guilty. 

The counts are tied to allegedly false records, including Cohen’s bogus invoices for legal fees, Trump’s checks reimbursing Cohen and ledger entries documenting the reimbursements in Trump’s accounting records.  

Each count is a Class E felony in New York – the lowest level felony offense under state law.  

To prove Trump guilty of the charges, prosecutors must show that the former president acted with an intent to defraud and to commit or further another crime. Prosecutors claim in a statement of facts that Trump and other participants in the hush money scheme violated election laws and mischaracterized business records to outwit state tax authorities. 

Though Trump’s other legal matters have ended in hefty financial penalties, his Manhattan criminal trial raises the stakes.  

Under New York state law, nonviolent Class E felonies carry a maximum sentence ranging from one and a half years to four years. However, a conviction in the hush money case would make Trump a first offender, meaning the judge could sentence him to no jail time or probation. 

High-profile witnesses from Trump’s orbit to testify 

Top aides in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and business orbits are expected to testify throughout the trial. 

Hope Hicks, Trump’s then-press secretary who is thought to have been aware of the hush money payment at the time, is reportedly set to testify. She has denied involvement. 

Trump Organization employees including Deborah Tarasoff, an accountant who allegedly processed the hush money reimbursements and invoices, and ex-controller Jeffrey McConney – who purportedly instructed Tarasoff to do so – could also take the stand. McConney was a defendant in Trump’s civil fraud trial, which recently ended with a New York judge ordering the defendants to pay $464 million, plus interest, for deceitful business practices.

And at least two executives at American Media Inc., the National Enquirer publisher alleged to have participated in the “catch-and-kill” scheme, could testify, as well: David Pecker, the company’s then-CEO, and Dylan Howard, then AMI editor-in-chief. 

The individuals whose stories were quashed – Daniels, McDougal and Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin – may also take the stand, in addition to Cohen.  

Trump will be in court

New York state law requires that Trump attend the entirety of his trial, which could last six or more weeks. 

Even when he wasn’t required to attend, however, the former president in recent months has regularly ditched the campaign trail to show up in court alongside his lawyers in multiple cases. 

Monday will mark Trump’s 13th day in court this year, according to The Hill’s review of his calendar.

Trump has turned his legal proceedings into a spectacle at times, storming out of the courtroom one day and causing a judge on another day to threaten to kick him out of the proceedings. 

The judge during Trump’s hush money trial can remove him following a warning if Trump “conducts himself in so disorderly and disruptive a manner that his trial cannot be carried on with him in the courtroom.” 

Jury selection could take days 

Jury selection is expected to begin Monday, when Trump’s lawyers and state attorneys will start to select the 12 New Yorkers who will decide the former president’s fate. The process could take days, if not weeks. 

Potential jurors are randomly picked from lists of New York registered voters, state driver’s license holders, New York State income tax filers and more. To serve, they must be at least 18 years old, U.S. citizens and Manhattan residents – where the trial is set to take place. Jurors must also understand English and hold no felony convictions. 

Once assembled, Merchan, the judge, will begin by introducing Trump and the lawyers. The judge will also outline the charges and read off a list of potential witnesses before asking everyone if they wish to be excused. 

“[I]f you have an honest, legitimate and good faith reason to believe that you cannot serve on this case, or that you cannot be fair and impartial, based solely upon what you have heard up to this point, please let me know now,” Merchan will ask. 

The judge has signaled anyone who raises their hand is likely to be excused. 

Next, the remaining group will be provided a 42-question survey. 

Among the questions: Do you listen to talk radio? Have you ever attended a rally or campaign event for Donald Trump? Have you ever considered yourself a supporter of the QAnon movement? 

It will not ask about prospective jurors’ political party or if they plan to vote for Trump in November. Trump had sought to glean that information as he faces trial in a borough that President Biden won by nearly 75 percentage points in 2020. 

The attorneys can make challenges for cause that contest a juror’s eligibility. Each side will also be given 10 peremptory challenges they can use to strike a juror without a reason. 

Eventually, the group will be whittled down to the 12 jurors who will decide the case, and opening statements will begin. 

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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2 thoughts on “Before Trump’s Hush Money Trial: What You Need to Know!”
  1. I believe that the trial is long overdue and it’s important for justice to be served. Regardless of his status, everyone should be held accountable for their actions. The evidence against Trump seems strong, and it’s time for him to face the consequences. I hope the truth comes out during the trial.

  2. It is crucial for the public to stay informed about this trial and the implications it could have on our country’s leadership. The evidence presented and the testimonies given will ultimately determine the outcome, and it’s important for justice to prevail.

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