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Trump’s Landmark Criminal Trial Begins In New York

Wearing his trademark red tie, white shirt and blue suit, Trump struck a defiant tone on arrival at the gritty Manhattan courthouse, telling a throng of journalists that his trial was an "assault on America."


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Former US President Donald Trump attends the first day of his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 15, 2024. (Photo by JEENAH MOON / POOL / AFP)

 

Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial opened Monday in a historic first for a US ex-president and a seismic twist to an already explosive 2024 presidential election where the Republican is seeking to defy multiple scandals and return to power.

Lawyers for both sides wrangled with Judge Juan Merchan over what evidence could be admitted as Trump, shoulders hunched, stared sternly straight ahead or looked down at the computer alongside his legal team.

Jury selection will follow, but given the notoriety of the case it could take as much as two weeks for defense lawyers and prosecutors to agree on the panel of 12 jurors.

Wearing his trademark red tie, white shirt and blue suit, Trump struck a defiant tone on arrival at the gritty Manhattan courthouse, telling a throng of journalists that his trial was an “assault on America.”

Outside, at a small but noisy pro-Trump protest, the former commander in chief’s supporters shouted obscenities about President Joe Biden and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the lead prosecutor.

One Trump backer flew a flag proclaiming “Trump or death.”

The 77-year-old is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged extramarital sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his 2016 election campaign from a last-minute upheaval.

The so-called hush money affair is one of four criminal cases hanging over Trump, including historic prosecutions against the Republican’s alleged attempts to subvert the 2020 election and prevent the winner, Biden, from taking office.

If convicted in the hush money case, Trump would potentially face years in prison, but legal observers consider this unlikely.

Still, the prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon throws an unprecedented wild card into an already unpredictable November 5 election, at which he will seek to defeat Biden and retake the White House.

The hard-right populist is running on dark vows of “vengeance” and seeking to spin his criminal cases as evidence of persecution.

Attempting to keep up his trademark bravado, Trump said last week that he will take the stand in the trial — a highly unusual and often risky move for defendants.

“Other defendants would be cautious, careful, demure, and always respectful of the court,” said Columbia Law School professor John Coffee.

“Trump is not that way. He basically lacks self-control as a witness.”

Lawyer and porn star

For jury selection, a pool of ordinary citizens convened by Merchan must answer a questionnaire including checks on whether they have been members of far-right groups.

The actual charges revolve around highly technical finance laws.

Trump is accused of illegally covering up remittances to his longtime attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who was using the funds to pay Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about the alleged sexual encounter in the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign.

A New York grand jury indicted Trump in March 2023 over the payments made to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, with the ex-president charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records.

He denies the charges and says the encounter with Clifford and another with a Playboy nude model, whose story he also allegedly covered up, did not happen.

Trump also claims he will not get a fair trial in heavily Democratic New York.

Even if convicted, he would be able to appeal and would not be barred from continuing to run, or even being elected president on November 5.

Four criminal cases 

Trump’s other three criminal cases — centered on his alleged hoarding of top-secret documents in Florida after he left the White House and his involvement in attempts to overturn the 2020 election — all face multiple delays.

In the New York case, Trump has repeatedly failed to secure meaningful delays, and Merchan has signaled he will run the trial with a firm hand.

Last week, the judge extended an existing gag order, in place to prevent Trump from attacking those involved in the trial, widening it to cover family members of the judge and Bragg.

The expansion of the order came after Trump lashed out at Merchan and his daughter in a series of posts on Truth Social.

AFP