Trump heads to first criminal trial ever of a former US president


Donald Trump is headed to trial on Monday, the first former U.S. president ever to face criminal charges and the threat of imprisonment if he is convicted.

His lawyers, prosecutors and Justice Juan Merchan will start picking jurors in a New York courtroom to hear evidence of alleged Trump dalliances with a porn star and a one-time Playboy Playmate, hush money to keep them quiet and falsified business ledgers to hide the payments.


Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential contender in the November election, will watch the proceedings from the defendant’s table in a trial that could unfold four days a week over the next month and a half. He could take the witness stand to defend himself or not, depending on how he and his lawyers view the prosecutors’ evidence.

Trump, the U.S. chief executive from early 2017 to January 2021, has repeatedly assailed his prosecution. He complained on his Truth Social platform last week, “No such thing has ever happened in our Country before. On Monday I will be forced to sit, GAGGED, before a HIGHLY CONFLICTED & CORRUPT JUDGE, whose hatred for me has no bounds.”

Since he is required to be in court, the case almost certainly will keep the 77-year-old candidate off the campaign trail for large swaths of time. He is trying to reclaim the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated him in the 2020 election, although Trump to this day claims falsely that he was he was cheated out of another four-year term by voting irregularities.

Trump stands accused of hiding a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels just ahead of the 2016 election to keep her from publicly talking about her claim that she had a one-night tryst with him at a celebrity golf tournament a decade earlier, less than four months after Trump’s wife Melania had given birth to their son, Barron.

In a second instance, the indictment alleges that a former Playmate of the Year, Karen McDougal, says she had a months-long 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 and all 34 charges he faces in the New York case, including that he directed his one-time political fixer, convicted perjurer Michael Cohen, to make the payment to Daniels and then reimbursed him during the first year of his presidency in 2017, all the while labeling the monthly stipends to Cohen in Trump’s business records as legal expenses.

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 that encompass 88 charges, all of which he has denied.

Some legal analysts view the hush money case as the least consequential of the four cases he faces. But it is possibly the only one that will go to trial before the November 5 election.

Two of the other indictments accuse Trump of illegally trying to upend his 2020 loss, while the third alleges that 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 these three cases, all delayed by pre-trial hearings and legal arguments. Trump has sought to push the start dates until after the election, and could, if he wins, seek to have the federal charges dismissed. In any event, if he assumes power again, he would not be tried during his presidency.

Cohen, who turned against his one-time boss, is expected to be a key witness against Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges in the case and lying to Congress, among other crimes. In all, he was imprisoned for about 13 1/2 months and spent a year and a half in home confinement.

Stormy Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford, is also expected to testify and McDougal could as well.

Prosecutors could also call Hope Hicks to the witness stand. Hicks is a loyal, longtime Trump aide who witnessed behind-the-scenes campaign strategizing just ahead of the 2016 vote.

Trump has railed against the hush money charges since he was indicted a year ago, claiming it and the other allegations filed against him are part of a plot by President Joe Biden and Democrats to keep him from winning the White House again. “Election interference,” he calls it.

There is no evidence that Biden has played any role in the indictments Trump is facing.

Trump complained bitterly when Merchan first imposed a gag order prohibiting him from verbally attacking principals in the case who are likely to testify against him, including Daniels, whom Trump has often called “horseface.”

On his Truth Social platform, Trump later attacked the judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, who is a key official at a political consulting firm that worked for the 2020 campaigns of Biden and other Democrats.

“This Judge should be recused, and the case should be thrown out,” Trump contended. “There has virtually never been a more conflicted judge than this one. ELECTION INTERFERENCE at its worst!”

Merchan ignored Trump’s taunts but tightened the gag order, prohibiting him from attacking the judge’s relatives or those of the lead prosecutor in the case, Alvin Bragg.

Merchan said the gag orders against Trump were warranted because of his conduct in other recent court cases, citing “threatening, inflammatory, denigrating” statements he has made.

“It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real,” Merchan wrote in imposing the tighter gag order that encompassed his daughter, although not the judge or prosecutor.

Trump immediately said it would be his “great honor” to be jailed by Merchan for violating the gag order, comparing himself to South Africa’s late Nelson Mandela, jailed for years while fighting racial apartheid.

“If this Partisan Hack wants to put me in the ‘clink’ for speaking the open and obvious TRUTH, I will gladly become a Modern Day Nelson Mandela,” Trump said on Truth Social.



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