Judge Sorts Out Prosecutor, Defense Requests as Trump ‘Hush Money’ Trial Begins

Monday is the first day of jury selection in the historic trial of former President Donald Trump, but before the jurors came into the courtroom, Judge Juan Merchan addressed some outstanding matters.

The first of former President Donald Trump’s criminal trials began on Monday after New York prosecutors accused him of falsifying business records related to an alleged affair with adult performer Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. President Trump arrived at the Manhattan criminal court Monday morning to face potential jurors who will decide his fate.

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Judge Won’t Let Trump Attend Supreme Court Hearing

President Trump exited the courtroom telling the press what happened today was incredulous.

“Amazing things happen today. As you know, my son is graduating from high school and it looks like the judge will not let me go to the graduation of my son. My son has worked very, very hard. And he’s a great student,” he said.

Justice Merchan had declined to decide whether he will excuse President Trump from court that day.

He had, however, said President Trump could not be excused next week to attend his Supreme Court hearing on April 25 in a separate case.

“An urgent hearing on immunity and this is something that we’ve been waiting for., a long time, and the judge, of course, is not going to allow us,” President Trump told reporters. “He won’t allow me to leave here for a half a day go to DC and go before the United States Supreme Court, because he thinks he’s superior.”

Court Adjourns

Right before 4:30 p.m., Justice Merchan gave potential jurors instructions that court would adjourn for the day and resume again 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.

Few Jurors Left

After returning from a break around 4 p.m., three prospective jurors were left. None have attended Trump rallies or are on Trump campaign email lists.

One was a woman who lives in Midtown East and works in business development. She gets her news from New York Times, CNN, Google, Wall Street Journal, and podcasts.

Another was a middle-aged man who lives in Midtown and works as a creative director. He has previously served on a criminal jury that reached a verdict. He gets his news from the New York Times, USA Today, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal.

More Than Half of First Panel of Jurors Excused

More than 50 the first batch of potential jurors were excused after being asked whether they believed they could be fair and impartial.

Around nine more were excused for not being able to serve for other reasons.

Potential Jurors Sworn In

The first panel of potential jurors have been sworn in.

Several stare at the former president as the judge introduces the case.

“The jury’s responsibility is to evaluate the testimony and all of the evidence presented at the trial,” Justice Merchan told the group. “The trial is the opportunity for you to decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty.”

Jurors Being Brought In

The first panel of 96 potential jurors went through security beginning around 2 p.m.

Justice Merchan told parties that all names of potential jurors need to be kept secret except to the parties.

Twelve juror and six alternates will be chosen to try the case.

Judge Delays Hearing on Trump Fine

Justice Merchan said he would hold a hearing on April 24 on prosecutors’ request to fine President Trump $3,000 over social media posts about witnesses including Michael Cohen.

The defense was given an April 19 deadline to file a response.

Trump Returns to Court

President Trump returned to the courtroom without addressing the press.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg returned around the same time.

Prosecutors Ask for Trump Gag Order Fine

Prosecutors asked for a $3,000 fine on President Trump for violating the gag order. They pointed to three social media posts and asked the court to fine him $1,000 per post.

“The defendant has demonstrated his willingness to flout the order. He’s attacked witnesses in the case,” said Christopher Conroy, one of the trial prosecutors.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche said the three social media posts prosecutors referenced “do not violate the gag order.”

“It’s not as if President Trump is going out and targeting individuals, he is responding to salacious, repeated vehement attacks by these witnesses,” he said.

The gag order prohibits President Trump from making statements about witnesses, jurors, court staff and counsel, and their families, or directing others to do so in a way that interferes with the case.

In that, the gag order may prohibit President Trump from making statements about key witnesses Michael Cohen and Stephanie Clifford. Defense attorneys had pushed back on this arguing that both witnesses are public figures who have made media appearances to talk about President Trump.

The court took a 10 minute break while the judge considered it, and President Trump did not speak to the press on his way out of the courtroom.

500 Jurors Waiting

Justice Merchan said there were 500 jurors awaiting questioning, putting an end to debate on procedures and pretrial motions.

The judge on April 8 approved final questions for potential jurors, and the court will need to seat 12.

Prosecutors Can’t Use ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape

Justice Merchan ruled the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape where then-candidate Trump was recorded on a hot mic cannot be played for the jurors.

However, the prosecutors will be allowed to present internal campaign emails that Assistant District Attorney Steinglass said contained “powerful evidence of the campaign’s reaction to the incendiary language contained in the Access Hollywood video.”

Judge Rejects Defense Requests From the Bench

Justice Merchan made a few more decsisions from the bench on pretrial motions, including denying the defense’s request to add juror questions and to allow Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who alleged an affair with Donald Trump, to testify.

“This is by far the most exhaustive questionnaire this court has ever used,” the judge said.

Ms. McDougal was paid $150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about her alleged 10-month affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. President Trump denies any affair.

The company suppressed McDougal’s story until after the election. American Media Inc. has acknowledged that its payments to McDougal were done specifically to assist Trump’s election bid and were made “in concert” with his campaign.

While these claims are not part of the charges, prosecutors argued it provides important context to their allegation that the $130,000 payment to Michael Cohen in the indictment is part of a larger scheme.

The judge also allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence of National Enquirer suppressing negative stories about then-candidate Trump and boosting the candidate’s attack of political opponents.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told the judge the meeting was the root of a scheme to suppress three potentially damaging stories about Trump, including the claim that adult actress Stephanie Clifford, better known by her stage name Stormy Daniels, of an affair she had with him in 2006.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche argued the evidence “would do nothing but confuse the jury about the actual crime charged.”

Trump Requests Day Off to Attend Son’s High School Graduation

Trump’s lawyers have requested that the trial not be held on May 17 so that the former president may attend his son Barron’s high school graduation. A Trump lawyer has also requested the trial not be held June 3 so that he could attend his own son’s graduation.

Justice Merchan said he was not prepared to rule on either request, but that if the trial proceeds as planned he’s willing to adjourn for one or both days. “It really depends on how we’re doing on time and where we are in the trial,” Justice Merchan said.

Judge Won’t Step Down

From the bench, Justice Merchan rejected the defense’s motion that he recuse himself from the case.

Trump Takes a Seat as Jury Selection to Begin

Hands folded, President Trump stares straight ahead as his lawyers settle in around him at the defense table. He’s flanked for the proceedings by attorneys Todd Blanche to his right and Emil Bove and Susan Necheles to his left.

Hundreds of people from Manhattan will file into the courthouse today to be considered as possible jurors in a process that could take multiple days.

Trump: ‘Proud to Be Here’

President Trump addressed reporters before heading inside the courtroom.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” he said. “There is no case and they said, people who don’t necessarily follow or like Donald Trump said, ‘this case is an outrage.’ This is political persecution.”

“This is an assault on America. And that’s why I’m proud to be here,” he added. “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.”

Trump Supporters, Protestors Chanting Outside

Around 200 Trump supporters are outside the courthouse and roughly 40 other individuals are there protesting against the former president, both groups chanting various slogans as President Trump arrives.

There is perhaps more press than all demonstrators combined.

Trump Arrives at Courthouse

Crowds and cameras are lined up outside the courthouse for the criminal trial of any former U.S. commander-in-chief in history.

Because he is also the presumptive nominee for this year’s Republican ticket, the trial will produce the head-spinning split-screen of a presidential candidate spending his days in court and, he has said, “campaigning during the night.”

President Trump arrived just after 9 a.m., traveling from Trump Tower.

Trump Claims Election Interference Hours Before Trial

Former President Donald Trump took to Truth Social hours before trial to claim election interference.

“The Radical Left Democrats are already cheating on the 2024 Presidential Election by bringing, or helping to bring, all of these bogus lawsuits against me, thereby forcing me to sit in courthouses, and spend money that could be used for campaigning, instead of being out in the field knocking Crooked Joe Biden, the WORST President in the History of the United States. Election Interference!” he wrote.

The trial is expected to last around six weeks, four days a week without Wednesdays, and could take President Trump off the campaign rail for a significant amount of time.

The Trump Campaign also sent out an email blast calling the trial a “Biden Trial,” and claiming Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is politically motivated.

Jury selection began on April 15.

Trump’s First Criminal Trial to Begin With Jury Selection

The first of former President Donald Trump’s criminal trials is set to begin on April 15 after New York prosecutors accused him of falsifying business records related to an alleged affair with adult performer Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels.

The trial is occurring on the heels of a $175 million bond payment the former president posted in a civil fraud lawsuit, also in New York.

The impending trial raises the prospect that he could face additional penalties, including a criminal conviction, before the 2024 election.

Experts have offered differing views regarding the eventual verdict, but the New York Clifford case is generally considered the least consequential of his four criminal cases. President Trump is currently facing potential prison time in his Washington and Georgia election-related cases, and his Florida documents case, none of which appears to have a certain trial date; some could be after the election.

The four trials also raise legal issues that could influence how future presidents and candidates make decisions. New York Judge Juan Merchan just added yet another gag order to the list that President Trump has encountered in Washington and his civil trial, prompting questions about free speech for leading candidates facing trial.

As in his other cases, President Trump has attempted to assert some form of presidential immunity from the charges he faces. On April 3, Judge Merchan rejected an immunity-related request from President Trump, stating that he waited too long to assert it. Regardless, the trial’s subject matter and proximity to President Trump’s immunity appeal at the Supreme Court will likely heighten political tensions and ignite debate over presidential power.

The Charges

Roughly a year before the scheduled trial date, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought a 34-count indictment charging President Trump with falsifying business records. They relate to alleged hush money payments made to Ms. Clifford ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Bragg is charging President Trump under a law that allows the prosecution to elevate the counts from misdemeanors to felonies if the fraud was conducted to conceal another crime. President Trump has denied all wrongdoing in the case and has denied that he had an affair with Ms. Clifford.

The indictment was unusual in that it didn’t specify the crime for which his charge would be elevated to a felony. Mr. Bragg has said that “the indictment doesn’t specify it because the law does not so require.”

The district attorney has suggested violations of three possible additional crimes: federal campaign finance laws, a state election law, and a tax fraud law. The Justice Department never charged President Trump for federal campaign finance violations.

According to Mr. Bragg, the charges arise from an alleged $130,00 payment made by President Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, to Ms. Clifford at the then-candidate’s request. That money came from $420,000 that the Trump Organization paid Mr. Cohen through a series of monthly checks allegedly disguised as part of a retainer agreement.

“In truth, there was no retainer agreement, and [Mr. Cohen] was not being paid for legal services rendered in 2017,” a statement of facts from Mr. Bragg read.
The district attorney lays out two other alleged hush money payments. Although all the charges relate only to the payment to Ms. Clifford, the prosecutors’ depiction of these other deals appears to be an effort to boost their case that President Trump intended to conceal another crime.

Mr. Bragg’s office alleged that Mr. Cohen also worked with American Media Inc. (AMI), the media company behind the National Enquirer, to arrange a payoff of $150,000 for Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, in exchange for her silence about her alleged affair with President Trump.

A separate, $30,000 agreement was set up between AMI and a Trump Tower doorman who alleged to have information about a child the former president purportedly fathered out of wedlock, Mr. Bragg’s office alleged.

President Trump has denied these alleged affairs.

Read full story here

The Associated Press and Sam Dorman contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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