Trump Makes History as Trial Begins in New York

Trump Makes History as Trial Begins in New York
Former 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. (Jefferson Siegel/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump made history on April 15 as the first and only American president to stand trial on criminal charges.

After numerous motions and appeals by the defense to hold off on the trial into the eleventh hour, for reasons ranging from media publicity to a request for the judge to step down, the trial proceeded on the schedule set by New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has charged President Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records, alleging a payment scheme to kill negative news stories and influence the 2016 election cycle. President Trump has said that he did nothing wrong, claiming that the case is politically motivated.

“This is political persecution,” President Trump told reporters before heading into the courtroom.

“This is an assault on America. And that’s why I’m proud to be here. This is an assault on our country. … It’s a country that’s run by a very incompetent man who’s very much involved in this case. This is very much an attack on a political opponent, that’s all that it is.”

Going through the first panel of 96 prospective jurors was a quick affair compared to the morning’s debates over pretrial motions and procedure. More than 50 were excused after being asked if they believed they could be fair and impartial, and another nine or so could not serve for other reasons.

One juror who left the courtroom was heard saying, “I just couldn’t do it.”

Less than a third of the prospective jurors were remaining by the time the court adjourned at 4:30 p.m.

The case will take President Trump off the campaign trail for a significant amount of time, as the trial is expected to run for six to eight weeks, with Wednesdays off. One of the jurors who mentioned his son was getting married in June was encouraged by the judge to excuse himself just to “be on the safe side.”

Defense counsel requested that President Trump be excused on April 25 so that he could attend a Supreme Court hearing on another one of his four indictments, but the judge declined.

“Arguing before the Supreme Court is a big deal, and I can certainly appreciate why your client would want to be there, but a trial in New York Supreme Court … is also a big deal,” Justice Merchan said. “I will see him here next week.”

As a criminal defendant, President Trump is required to attend all court dates unless he applies for and obtains a waiver. Defense counsel requested other future days off, noting that the Trump campaign has taken pains to schedule events for Wednesdays but that it is the height of campaign season. The judge said he would not give a blanket answer at the time, but President Trump needed to be present for “any proceeding that involves the jury.” The defense had also requested that President Trump be excused on May 17 to attend his son Barron’s high school graduation, and the judge said he would not decide at this time.

In the courtroom, Justice Merchan warned the former president that he would face arrest for missing court dates.

“If you do not show up, there will be an arrest … do you understand?” the judge asked.

President Trump replied, “I do.”

Judge Firm on No Delays

The bulk of the first day in court focused on pending pretrial motions and procedural issues, with much debate over the defense’s requests to postpone the trial because of several motions and appeals.

One of the motions that the judge had yet to rule on was a request that he step down, and from the bench Justice Merchan denied the defense’s motion for recusal.

Defense attorneys had renewed this request recently after the judge declined to step down once already in August 2023, arguing that new evidence shows that his daughter’s marketing firm has clients running anti-Trump fundraising campaigns about this case and that the judge recently gave an interview that mentioned that preparation for this case was “intense.” The judge said he did not see evidence that President Trump’s due process rights had been violated.

Justice Merchan had weeks ago ruled on motions in limine, setting boundaries for what evidence and arguments could be presented before a jury, but some remaining issues were debated in court. He allowed for testimony by Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who alleged an affair with Donald Trump. While her claims are not part of the charges, prosecutors say it is important context to show that President Trump’s payment to his former personal attorney Michael Cohen is part of a larger scheme. The judge also allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence of the National Enquirer suppressing negative stories about then-presidential candidate Trump and boosting the candidate’s attack on political opponents.

The judge also denied prosecutors the ability to play the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which then-presidential candidate Trump was recorded on a hot mic. However, prosecutors will be allowed to present internal campaign emails reacting to the tape.

Justice Merchan denied the defense’s request to add to the list of questions that will be given to jurors, saying that “this is by far the most exhaustive questionnaire this court has ever used.”

The judge was firm that no delays would be permitted, saying hundreds of jurors were awaiting questioning.

Justice Merchan gave the defense a 24-hour deadline to present to prosecutors the evidence they would use, noting that they should have done this earlier.

“You have 24 hours,” he said. “That’s my decision.”

Gag Order Violation?

Justice Merchan also set an April 23 hearing on a potential violation of President Trump’s gag order.

Prosecutors requested a $3,000 fine on President Trump for allegedly violating his gag order with three social media posts. Defense attorneys protested, arguing that no violation had occurred in the posts, in which President Trump blasted witnesses such as Mr. Cohen.

Key witnesses Mr. Cohen and adult performer Stephanie Clifford have made high-profile media appearances in relation to the case in which they made allegations about President Trump, including the recent release of a documentary about Ms. Clifford, better known by her stage name, Stormy Daniels.

Mr. Cohen alleges that he was paid $130,000 to bribe Ms. Clifford to not leak the story of an alleged affair she had with Donald Trump. While testifying in a civil case against President Trump last fall, Mr. Cohen noted that he made a significant portion of his income from criticizing President Trump in the media, in podcasts, and in his books. Defense attorneys are seeking to discredit him as a witness, but a motion to exclude Mr. Cohen’s testimony was rejected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.