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NY prosecutor ties Trump hush money payments to campaign as criminal trial kicks off


NY prosecutor ties Trump hush money payments to campaign as criminal trial kicks off

Apr 22, 2024 | 2:20 pm ET
By Ashley Murray
NY prosecutor ties Trump hush money payments to campaign as criminal trial kicks off
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives with his attorney Todd Blanche, right, in court for opening statements in his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 22, 2024, in New York City. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial (Yuki Iwamura-Pool/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON — Oral arguments in former President Donald Trump’s historic case in New York began Monday in a Manhattan courtroom where jurors will be tasked with deciding whether deceptive hush money payments to hide an affair amount to a criminal conviction.

The first-ever criminal trial of an ex-U.S. president centers on Trump’s alleged falsified business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, with whom he denies he had a sexual relationship.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo told jurors Monday that Trump’s payments to Daniels in 2016, which he reimbursed to his former lawyer Michael Cohen as legal expenses, were meant to “influence the presidential election,” according to reporters at the courthouse.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and fraud. The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election, then he covered up that conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over, and over, and over again,” Colangelo argued, according to journalists present.

The New York court does not permit audio or video recording but will provide daily transcripts on its website.

Calling him ‘President Trump’

Defense attorney Todd Blanche argued for Trump, whom he said will be referred to as “President Trump” throughout the trial “out of respect” and because he “earned” the title.

Blanche told the jurors “President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney should never have brought this case.”

Claiming that Trump was unaware of the nuances of the payments, Blanche argued, “You’ll learn that President Trump had nothing to do with any of the 34 pieces of paper … except he signed the checks.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree for each reimbursement payment to Cohen.

Blanche also told the jurors to dismiss the prosecution’s election interference theory: “I have a spoiler alert: there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election, it’s called democracy,” he said, according to reporters in the courthouse.

Trump raised his fist and did not take questions as he left the courtroom for a brief recess after opening statements, according to reporters.

National Enquirer exec called

The prosecution called David Pecker, former chairman of the tabloid National Enquirer’s parent company, as its first witness Monday. Pecker was involved in the scheme with Cohen to identify and purchase, nicknamed “catch and kill,” damaging stories about Trump ahead of the 2016 election.

The prosecution is also expected to call Cohen, who has already served prison time in relation to the payments, and Hope Hicks, a former Trump campaign press secretary.

The trial could last for longer than a month, possibly two, keeping the presumed 2024 Republican presidential nominee off the campaign trail four days a week.

The New York proceeding also overlaps with Trump’s immunity arguments scheduled for Thursday before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The former president claims he enjoys absolute criminal immunity for his actions while in office, including immunity from special counsel Jack Smith’s charges that he allegedly schemed to subvert the 2020 presidential election results, culminating in a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

New York Judge Juan Merchan denied Trump’s request to attend the Supreme Court arguments, saying he must be present at his Manhattan trial, according to media reports.

In early morning posts to his social media platform Truth Social, Trump blamed President Joe Biden — despite the case being at the state level — and repeated his refrain that the trial is politically motivated. He wrote, partially in all caps, that he will now be “STUCK in a courtroom, and not be allowed to campaign for President of the United States!”