Prosecution lays out ‘criminal conspiracy’ in historic Donald Trump trial

Donald Trump speaks to the press during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs on 22 April 2024. (Photo by Yuki Iwamura / POOL / AFP)

Donald Trump speaks to the press during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs on 22 April 2024. (Photo by Yuki Iwamura / POOL / AFP)

  • US prosecutors say former President Donald Trump engaged in layers of lies and fraud to conceal his payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
  • The prosecution says it was election fraud. Trump’s lawyers say trying to influence an election is democracy.
  • The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Donald Trump engaged in a multi-layered conspiracy of fraud, lies and cover-ups, prosecutors said on Monday during opening arguments in the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo said Trump falsified business records to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels over a 2006 sexual encounter that could have impacted his 2016 presidential bid.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up,” Colangelo told the jury of New Yorkers in a Manhattan courtroom. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

Trump, 77, dressed in a dark blue suit and blue tie with an American flag pin on his lapel, sat at the defense table flanked by his lawyers, staring straight ahead as the prosecutor delivered his opening remarks.

The case poses substantial risks to the Republican presidential candidate coming less than seven months before his November election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Prosecution witnesses are expected to include Daniels and Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen, who arranged the alleged “hush money” payment to the adult film actress.

“President Trump did not commit any crimes,” Todd Blanche, one of his attorneys, said in his opening statement. “The Manhattan DA should never have brought this case.

“I have a spoiler alert: there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election,” Blanche said. “It’s called democracy.”

David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, was the first witness called by prosecutors, who allege he was used to ward off negative stories about Trump, a policy known as “catch and kill.”

Pecker was only briefly on the stand before court was adjourned for the day by Judge Juan Merchan. It will resume on Tuesday.

Campaign trail

Trump, speaking to reporters in a hallway after the court session, insisted he had done nothing wrong and claimed the case was intended to derail his 2024 White House bid.

“This is a Biden witch hunt to keep me off the campaign trail,” he said.

The trial will keep Trump in court for four days a week over a possibly six-to-eight-week period.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records for reimbursements made to Cohen, his personal lawyer, for the $130,000 “hush money” payment to Daniels.

Blanche, Trump’s attorney, attacked the credibility of Cohen, who served prison time for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, and Daniels in his opening remarks.

“He’s a convicted felon,” Blanche said of Cohen. “And he also is a convicted perjurer.”

Daniels “saw her chance to make a lot of money, $130,000, and it worked,” he said. “And since this story came out in 2018, became public, she’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars because of it.”

Trump has also been indicted on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by Biden and for hoarding secret documents after leaving the White House.

Those cases have been repeatedly delayed, however, due to his strategy of challenging every legal step.

Merchan, on the other hand, has run the New York trial on a tight schedule.

Trump has railed against the case, particularly what he calls a “very unfair” partial gag order imposed by Merchan to prevent him from publicly attacking witnesses, prosecutors and relatives of court staff.

A hearing will be held Tuesday at which Merchan will decide if Trump is already in contempt of court due to outbursts during jury selection.

The identities of the jurors are being kept secret for their own protection.

Security was tight Monday after a man set himself on fire last week outside the courthouse in an unrelated but gruesome incident.

The jury was seated last week after being questioned by prosecutors and defense attorneys about their media habits, political donations and education.

Many potential panelists were excused after saying they could not be impartial, before lawyers and the judge whittled down to 12 jurors with six alternates.

A unanimous verdict will be required to convict Trump, who has been ordered to attend each day of the trial.

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