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Trump set to begin criminal trial, first ever in the US

The crux of the case centers around the more than $400,000 Michael Cohen received as repayment during Trump's first year in the Oval Office.
Trump set to begin criminal trial, first ever in the US
Posted at 5:30 PM, Apr 12, 2024

Former President Donald Trump is set to begin jury selection Monday in his first  criminal trial, and the first Americans have seen of a former commander in chief. The indictment includes 34 criminal counts detailing 11 invoices by Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, and dozens of allegedly false business records.

They consist of payments that happened during the 2016 election to allegedly silence stories from a doorman from Trump Tower, former playmate Karen McDougal, and adult film star Stormy Daniels. These payments all occurred before voters went to the polls.

The crux of the case centers around the more than $400,000 Michael Cohen received as repayment during Trump's first year in the Oval Office. 

The alleged hush money payments were listed in the Trump ledger as a "legal retainer," something prosecutors say was done to hide the expenses.

"What they're going to try to establish is that he was trying to be deceptive in how he put that in his checkbook register, as opposed to just kind of generally putting in their legal expense," said former federal prosecutor Andrew Cherkasky.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. initially declined to bring charges against Trump, but when Alvin Bragg assumed office, he picked the case back up. Both Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen could testify during the six-week trial.

But the former President isn't heading into Monday's trial date without a fight. He's made numerous failed attempts to get the case dismissed, including as recently as Wednesday.

"We want delays," he said back in February. "I'm running for election. How can you run for election when you're sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?"

SEE MORE: Manhattan court needs jurors for its criminal case against Trump

Trump's team has also made multiple efforts to push Judge Juan Merchan to recuse himself because of his daughter's involvement with Democratic politics. Merchan has denied the requests, saying he will be able to be impartial. He sought insight from a judge panel last summer which also approved the move.

"That gives the judge a good basis to remain on the case. It doesn't, though, extinguish the concern of the defense," Cherkasky explained. "And so no matter how many times the judge assures a defense team that they can be fair and neutral, obviously, that defense team, if they think that things are not going their way or if they think that the judge is acting in an unfair manner, may continue to come back to that."

Trump has not taken the decision well. He's continually posted on his Truth Social accounts criticizing the judge, his family, the district attorney and others. Merchan responded by imposing a partial gag order. Cherkasky says that could have an impact during the sentencing phase should he be found guilty.

"If he makes the judge mad enough, if he is wild enough in his antics in the courtroom or in the way in which he portrays himself if he were to testify in this case — if he is particularly indignant, a judge does have some room with a conviction like this to order some amount of jail time," Cherkasky said.

Cherkasky added that there is at least one last potential delay tactic left: Trump could fire his entire defense team as late as the morning of the trial. He'd tell the judge he's lost confidence in his team. That would give him time to find new counsel and have them prepare.

"I'm sure the judge would feign some degree of frustration over, and probably the prosecutors as well. But that is not something that there is much wiggle room in the law on if he chooses to do it," he added.

Cherkasky says despite the fact that there are nine times more Democratic voters than Republicans in Manhattan, he doesn't believe it's a slam dunk case for Bragg's team.

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