Trump faces trial on criminal hush money charges: What to know

Trump faces trial on criminal hush money charges: What to know

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the hallway outside a courtroom in New York City on March 25, 2024, where he attends a hearing in his criminal trial on allegations related to hush money payments to a porn star.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Donald Trump has used every legal means at his disposal to try to stop, mitigate or delay the four criminal cases pending against him.

But on Monday, barring a last-minute trial, Trump will become the first former president to face trial for a crime.

At the heart of the New York Supreme Court trial are allegations that Trump falsified business records to conceal a $130,000 hush-money payment in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels, who said she had an extramarital affair years earlier to have had Trump.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has accused Trump of using “catch and kill” tactics to hide damaging information from voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

This case may be the only one of Trump’s 88 criminal complaints in four different cases to make it to court before the Nov. 5 presidential election.

If convicted in this case, the 77-year-old former president could be sentenced to prison in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison complex or in a state prison.

Here’s what you should know about the historical process:

What are the fees?

In this courtroom sketch, former U.S. President Donald Trump appears for an arraignment on charges stemming from his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury following an investigation into hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels in New York City on April 4, 2023.

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Trump is charged with 34 counts of first-degree falsifying business records.

Under New York law, a person is guilty of this offense if his or her records are falsified with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors accuse Trump and others of violating election laws to carry out an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 election by purchasing and suppressing negative information about him.

How did the alleged plan work?

Michael Cohen, former lawyer for Donald Trump, arrives at the New York courthouse on March 13, 2023.

Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

At the center of Bragg’s case is Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges related to hush money payments to two women before the 2016 election.

Cohen is expected to be one of the trial’s key witnesses and will say that Trump directed him to make those payments.

To secretly pay Daniels, prosecutors allege, Cohen opened a bank account for a shell company he created specifically to facilitate the payment. He then transferred $131,000 from a home equity line of credit into that account. On October 27, less than two weeks before the 2016 election, Cohen transferred $130,000 to Daniel’s lawyer in exchange for her silence about the alleged tryst with Trump.

After the election, Bragg says, Trump reimbursed Cohen through a series of monthly checks processed by the Trump Organization, which she recorded as payments for legal services provided in 2017 under a fee-for-service agreement.

The prosecutor claims these records are false.

Trump and Cohen were also allegedly involved in a 2016 hush money payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who received $150,000 from the then-publisher of the National Enquirer to keep quiet about her own alleged affair with Trump.

Bragg also points to a $30,000 payment by publisher American Media Inc. to a former Trump Tower doorman for the rights to a story about Trump’s father of an illegitimate child. After discovering the story wasn’t true, the publisher’s CEO, David Pecker, wanted to end the deal — but he held off until after the 2016 election at Cohen’s direction, prosecutors allege.

How long will the process take?

Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse after being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury in an investigation into hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels on April 4, 2023 in New York City.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

The trial was originally scheduled to begin March 25 but was pushed back to Monday to give Trump’s team time to look at some recently obtained documents.

The trial begins with the selection of 12 jurors and alternates.

Judge Juan Merchan said he expects the trial to last about six weeks.

Will Trump be there?

Former US President Donald Trump waves to a crowd on his way to his Mar-a-Lago resort after being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury following an investigation into hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels on April 4 in Palm Beach, Florida, was indicted. 2023.

Eric Trump via Reuters

Yes, Trump will be there. New York law requires defendants to attend their trials, with few exceptions.

Trump has voluntarily attended numerous hearings in the hush-money case and his other criminal cases, generating waves of mainstream media attention that his regular campaign events no longer attract.

Trump attorney Will Scharf said on “Fox News Sunday” that Trump and the trial team would decide whether or not to take the stand depending on how the trial goes.

“I would say this, I think if he actually takes the stand, President Trump will be a compelling witness. He hasn’t done anything wrong here,” he said. “The truth is absolutely on his side, so that’s a decision that has to be made later.”

On Monday, Trump was also scheduled to give a deposition in a separate lawsuit related to his media company’s public merger. Trump Media & Technology Groupbut that appearance has reportedly been postponed.

Could Trump go to prison?

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a news conference to discuss his indictment of former President Donald Trump at Manhattan Federal Court on April 4, 2023 in New York.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony, punishable by a maximum penalty of four years in prison. But the sentence a defendant ultimately receives is often far less than the maximum, and Trump’s age and lack of a criminal record could also play in his favor in a possible sentencing decision.

However, his hostility toward Chief Judge Merchan and other people involved in the case – including the judge’s daughter – could work against him.

“I think there is a significant risk that he will be convicted and face prison time,” Norm Eisen, a legal analyst who assisted House Democrats in Trump’s first impeachment, said in a news conference Thursday ahead of the hush money trial.

“When it comes to falsifying business documents to facilitate, conceal or commit serious crimes, prison sentences are regularly imposed,” said Eisen.

Trump can still run for office even if he is convicted and imprisoned.

Who are the witnesses?

In this courtroom sketch, Michael Cohen looks at former U.S. President Donald Trump as he is questioned by an attorney from the attorney general’s office during the Trump Organization’s civil fraud trial in the New York State Supreme Court in the New York City borough of Manhattan on October 24. 2023.

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Cohen and Daniels are expected to take the stand in the trial. But prosecutors have compiled a list of about a dozen other potential witnesses, including McDougal and Pecker, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told NBC News.

The same source told NBC that Trump himself could be on the defense’s list of potential witnesses.

Trump has not yet said whether he plans to testify in his defense. As he took the stand in his New York civil white collar fraud case in November, Trump angrily lashed out at the judge, the attorney general and many other “haters.”

Bradley Smith, a former Federal Election Commission commissioner, is another potential defense witness, NBC reported.

How is Trump preparing?

Former US President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom with his lawyer Susan Necheles on March 25, 2024 in New York City during a hearing in his criminal trial on allegations related to hush money payments to a porn star.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Trump’s lawyers have thrown the process into limbo in hopes of a delay. They have made more than 10 attempts to enforce it later, three of which came in last-minute appeals filed in the final week before jury selection.

Trump, as he has in his other legal battles, has used his public following as a weapon against the case.

In regular diatribes and interviews on social media, he has railed against the judge, the prosecutor, key witnesses and various others, while claiming that all of his criminal complaints are part of a Biden administration conspiracy to harm his presidential candidacy.

Read more about CNBC’s politics coverage

Merchan imposed a gag order on Trump and then expanded it after the former president repeatedly criticized the judge’s daughter over her work for a Democratic political consultant. Trump’s legal team has repeatedly called on Merchan to recuse himself because of his daughter’s political activities. Merchan declined last year.

In a video posted to Truth Social on Thursday, Trump condemned the silence order, falsely claiming, “This only happens to me” and asserting, “There has never been a judge more confrontational than this.”

Scharf, Trump’s lawyer, said on “Fox News Sunday” that the silence order was “completely unconstitutional.” It “just shows how outrageous this whole process has been,” he added.

—CNBC’s Melina Khan contributed to this report.

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2024-04-14 15:24:11