Trump’s Criminal Hush Money Trial Is About To Start. Here’s What To Expect.

Jury selection will begin on Monday in the first of former President Donald Trump’s four pending criminal cases, kicking off the search for a panel of New Yorkers to decide whether the way Trump handled a hush money payment to cover up an alleged affair constituted a felony.

It will be an extraordinary moment in U.S. history, the first time any former president has faced criminal trial and possible jail time.

It will also, in all likelihood, be a circus.

Unlike his recent civil trials, Trump is required to be in the courtroom while New York prosecutors lay out their case. That means he will have to sit and listen to expected witness testimony from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, and Stormy Daniels, a porn star who claims she had an affair with Trump during his time on “The Apprentice.”

He has not proven to be a man who can sit and listen quietly. Judge Juan Merchan has already put him under a gag order barring him from launching public attacks on people involved in the trial, although Trump is still expected to give his own press conferences as it progresses.

Ultimately, the fate of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee will lie in the hands of a group of ordinary residents of his hometown — a city where huge numbers of people took to the streets in celebration when he was not reelected to a second term.

Trump’s signature legal tactic — to delay proceedings as long as possible — failed him here. While his teams of lawyers have managed to stall his federal criminal trials in Florida and Washington, D.C., along with the state-level trial in Georgia, judges in New York dismissed his many various motions to push back the hush money trial.

As a result, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg might end up being the only prosecutor to try Trump on criminal charges before the 2024 presidential election.

Bragg offered up his reasoning for going after the former president when he announced the 34 felony charges against him last year.

“This is the business capital of the world,” Bragg said at a news conference, according to The New York Times. “We regularly do cases involving false business statements. The bedrock — in fact, the basis for business integrity and a well-functioning business marketplace — is true and accurate record-keeping. That’s the charge that’s brought here, falsifying New York State business records.”

Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges and denies having had affairs.

In this case, the hush money itself is not at issue. Nor are the alleged affairs, which are, of course, not illegal.

The problem lies in how the situation with Daniels was taken care of financially.

Prosecutors will argue that Trump illegally covered up the payment made to Daniels on his behalf. (In the case, prosecutors have also referenced two other people paid off to stay silent: former model Karen McDougal, who allegedly had an affair with Trump, and a former Trump Tower doorman, who claimed Trump allegedly fathered a child out of wedlock. The charges themselves, however, only relate to how the Daniels payment was handled.)

In 2016, it was far from clear whether Trump’s supporters would stand by him if he were publicly accused of being a serial cheater. As it turned out, many would stand by him even through repeated sexual assault allegations.

That summer, McDougal ended up receiving $150,000 from the publisher of the National Enquirer, a tabloid whose leadership supported Trump to such an extent that they offered to be on the lookout for any negative stories about him threatening to bubble to the surface. In a practice known as “catch and kill,” the publisher, American Media Inc., bought McDougal’s story so they could squash it. AMI also arranged to pay the doorman $30,000 for his story, although the publisher eventually concluded that his version of events was not true, according to court documents.

When The Washington Post published what would be known as the “Access Hollywood” tape in early October 2016, just one month until the election, Trump’s already unscrupulous image took a serious beating. He had been recorded in 2005 making vile comments about women, saying, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Some of his fellow Republicans called for him to drop out. There were questions about reprinting ballots to remove Trump from the ticket.

Prosecutors say that’s what prompted Trump to lock down Daniels’ story. Cohen paid Daniels an amount totaling $130,000 through a shell company and was later reimbursed by Trump in a series of installments.

Trump’s reimbursement checks were labeled “for legal services rendered” — illegally disguising their true purpose, according to prosecutors.

Usually falsifying business records is only a misdemeanor-level crime. But it can become a low-level felony if a prosecutor shows that the falsification was done in furtherance of another crime. That’s what Bragg will aim to do.

As stated in court records: “From August 2015 to December 2017, the Defendant orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects.”

Cohen already pleaded guilty to his part in the scheme in 2018 and served his three-year sentence on charges relating to tax evasion and campaign finance violations.

Whether Bragg will be successful with Trump is hard to tell. Prospective jurors will be asked 42 questions designed to evaluate their media diet — one section asks whether they read HuffPost — along with their views on the former president.

Critics have argued that the charges at stake are mundane and petty, and that they even help fuel Trump’s argument that he is being politically persecuted by Democrats. The other criminal cases, centering on Trump’s threats to democracy and national security, certainly appear to have much weightier implications for the American public. Bragg even offered to delay his case to allow the federal cases to be tried first, but ultimately went forward once it appeared the federal judges would need time to handle Trump’s various legal challenges.

On the campaign trail, Trump has been discussing his assorted legal entanglements with a curious comparison.

“Remember this, I’ve been indicted more times than Alphonse Capone, Scarface,” Trump said onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February — one of several times he’s likened himself to the infamous mob boss.

The parallels may bear out in more ways than that. Capone was never convicted on the things that earned him headlines — bootlegging, gambling, murder — but rather, for tax evasion.

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