Former President Donald Trump was in court as jury selection began in his hush money criminal trial. Credit: Ed Quinn

Jury selection in the fraud case against former President Donald Trump is set to begin Monday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. It will be the first time a former or sitting president has been the defendant in a criminal trial. Trump, a Republican who served one four-year term as president, was defeated by Democrat Joe Biden in 2020. Trump and Biden, the presumptive presidential nominees for their respective parties, are both seeking second terms in November.

What charges are Trump facing?

Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg's office. Trump allegedly directed his then-personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to make a $130,000 hush-money payment to an adult pornography actor, with whom Trump allegedly had an affair, prosecutors have said. Trump has denied the affair and any knowledge of the payment. The payment made to Stephanie Clifford, the porn actor known as Stormy Daniels, was purported to be for legal services as part of a retainer agreement, prosecutors have said. Prosecutors have said the retainer and legal services were nonexistent. The scheme to hide the alleged affair from public view was designed to “benefit the defendant's electoral prospects” as he ran for president in 2016, according to court papers filed by prosecutors in the case.

What precipitated the alleged deal?

In court papers, the district attorney pointed out that the deal for payment came days after news broke of an “Access Hollywood” recording of Trump saying: “When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab ’em by the [genitals].”

Bragg argued that both Trump and his campaign staff were concerned that the tape would harm “his viability as a candidate and reduce his standing with female voters in particular.”

Daniels was paid $130,000 in October 2016, a month before the election.

Former President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference after...

Former President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference after a pretrial hearing at Manhattan Supreme Court on March 25. Credit: AP/Yuki Iwamura

Where and how long is the trial expected to last?

The trial is expected to last eight weeks, and it comes in the middle of the national campaign. This past week, Trump's lawyers filed three emergency appeals to delay the start of the case, all of which were unsuccessful.

Who is the presiding judge?

State Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan will oversee the trial. Trump's legal team has tried repeatedly — without success — to have Merchan removed from the case. Trump has criticized the judge on social media, calling him a “Trump-hating judge.” Merchan issued a gag order last month prohibiting Trump from attacking witnesses, prosecutors and jurors during the trial. Bragg’s office cited Trump’s “long-standing history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against him” — for seeking the order from Merchan.

Merchan will not decide the charges against Trump; a jury will.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg speaks at a news conference...

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg speaks at a news conference after the arraignment of former President Donald Trump in New York on April 4, 2023.  Credit: AP/John Minchillo

What has Trump said about the charges and Bragg?

Trump has denied wrongdoing while assailing Bragg for bringing the charges. He has accused the district attorney of carrying out a politically motivated witch hunt. He has called Bragg a “criminal,” someone he said is politically motivated to bring the indictment to undermine Trump’s bid for the White House.

“After a five-year meandering, halting, and roving investigation that entailed inexplicable and unconstitutional delay, the District Attorney’s office filed a discombobulated package of politically motivated charges marred by legal defects, procedural failures, discovery violations, and a stubborn refusal to provide meaningful particulars regarding its theory of the case,” Todd Blanche, the former president’s defense attorney, said in a recent legal filing in the case.

Bragg says the case is not about politics, as reported by The Associated Press.

“At its core, this case today is one with allegations like so many of our white-collar cases,” the news service quoted Bragg as saying when he announced the indictment last year. “Someone lied again and again to protect their interests and evade the laws to which we are all held accountable.”

Will Trump testify?

The former president said late Friday that he planned to testify at his trial, The New York Times reported. The paper said Trump made the assertion while talking to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

“I’m testifying. I tell the truth,” Trump responded when asked if he would take the stand, the Times reported. “I mean, all I can do is tell the truth. And the truth is that there’s no case. They have no case.”

Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen speaks to...

Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen speaks to reporters in Manhattan on March 15, 2023. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Is Cohen expected to testify?

Witnesses could include Cohen, a Lawrence native. Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison in 2018 in connection with the hush-money scheme after pleading guilty to an eight-count indictment that included charges of tax evasion, making false statements to a federally insured bank and campaign finance violations. He was released from prison in 2020.

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels arrives for the opening of...

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels arrives for the opening of the adult entertainment fair Venus in Berlin, on Oct. 11, 2018. Credit: AP/Markus Schreiber

Who are other potential witnesses?

Other potential witnesses include Daniels, former Trump campaign and White House aide Hope Hicks, and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate who has said she had a nine-month affair with Trump. McDougal also said she was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc., the then-parent company of The National Enquirer, for the rights to her story. The publication then suppressed the story, a practice reportedly known as “catch and kill.” Federal prosecutors decided not to prosecute AMI for its role in the payment.

David Pecker, the former publisher of the Enquirer, also could be called as a witness.

Could Trump face prison time if convicted?

If convicted, Trump's sentence would be at the discretion of the trial judge. Trump faces up to 4 years in prison on each count, but any sentence imposed likely would run concurrently. Trump also could receive probation, as he would be a first-time offender of a nonviolent crime.

What other prosecutions is Trump facing?

In sum, Trump is facing 88 felony charges in separate judicial proceedings across four jurisdictions. In addition to the New York case, Trump also has been indicted on federal charges in Washington, D.C., that he attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election; state election interference charges in Georgia; and charges that he mishandled classified records in Florida after leaving the presidency.

Can Trump serve as president if convicted and elected to the White House?

Yes.

The U.S. Constitution, which requires the president to be at least 35 years of age, a “natural born” citizen and a resident of the country for 14 years, does not prohibit a candidate from running or serving in office if convicted.

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