Former President Donald Trump at the defense table with his...

Former President Donald Trump at the defense table with his legal team in a Manhattan courtroom on April 4, 2023. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

Donald Trump will go on trial Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court on charges that he falsified business records to hide hush money payments to Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star known as Stormy Daniels, during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

This will be the first time in U.S. history that a former or sitting president will be criminally prosecuted.

If convicted of any of the 34 Class E felony counts, Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election, could be sentenced to 4 years or more in prison and be incarcerated before the November election, according to legal experts.

The trial, expected to last eight weeks, comes in the middle of the national campaign that pits Trump against President Joe Biden. This past week Trump's lawyers filed three emergency appeals to delay the start of the case, all of which were unsuccessful.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Jury selection in the fraud case against ex-President Donald Trump is set to begin Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court. It will be the first time a former or sitting president has been the defendant in a criminal trial.
  • Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Trump allegedly directed his personal attorney to make a $130,000 hush money payment to an adult pornography actress, 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 actress known as Stormy Daniels, was purported to be for legal services as part of a retainer agreement, prosecutors have said.

Americans are feeling a growing dissatisfaction with the government, according to a recent Gallup Poll, and political experts say the trial could impact the outcome of the election.

The former president has denied any wrongdoing, assailing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as a “criminal,” 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 lawyer, said in a recent legal filing in the case.

The former president said late Friday that he planned to testify, 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,” he said responded when asked by reporters if he would take the stand. “I mean, all I can do is tell the truth. And the truth is that there’s no case. They have no case.”

According to the district attorney’s office, Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

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

Donald Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen speaks to reporters in New York in 2023. Credit: AP / Mary Altaffer

The former president, with the help of Michael Cohen, his erstwhile attorney, and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker hatched a plan in August 2015 to “catch and kill” any negative stories about Trump ahead of the 2016 election in November, according to court records.

The crime, the district attorney’s office says, is falsifying business records to cover up money spent to aid Trump’s presidential campaign, a violation of federal campaign finance laws.

The trial promises to bring up once again some intimate and embarrassing details about an alleged affair that the former president had with Daniels, then 27, in 2006 during a golf tournament in Nevada.

Prosecutors also will focus on Trump’s effort to hide another affair, with former Playboy model Karen McDougal from 2006 to 2007, around the time the former president turned 60.

Pecker paid $150,000 to McDougal not to tell her story, which prosecutors say was fraudulently recorded on the supermarket tabloid’s general ledger. The district attorney says Pecker paid off the former model with the understanding that Trump would reimburse him.

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

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.” 

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels in Berlin in 2018.

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels in Berlin in 2018. Credit: AP / Markus Schreiber

There was also a third effort, the district attorney says, to pay off Trump Tower door attendant Dino Sajudin, who falsely said to have information about a child of the former president’s born out of wedlock. Pecker paid Sajudin $30,000 to sign a nondisclosure agreement to stay silent about his story. After the tabloid publisher concluded that the doorman’s story was not true, Cohen convinced Pecker not to release the door attendant from his hush agreement until after the election, according to prosecutors.

Cohen set up two shell companies — Essential Consultants LLC and Resolution Consultants LLC — funding the companies through a home equity line of credit, to launder the payments, according to court records.

Pecker, in a non-prosecution agreement, and Cohen, who pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to 3 years in prison, already have admitted the scheme.

The crime of falsifying business records in New York State is normally a misdemeanor, Hofstra University School of Law professor and former prosecutor Alafair Burke told Newsday, unless it happens to support another crime.

“What makes the case more interesting is that it's a felony,” she said. “If the reason why they falsified the business records was to cover up another crime … the fact that they would pay hush money because they didn't want that to hurt his electoral chances, that is a campaign finance violation.”

After Trump was elected, according to prosecutors, he met with Cohen and Pecker to thank them for suppressing the news of his alleged infidelity and then agreed to reimburse the lawyer for the hush money payments.

Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg agreed to “gross up” Cohen, paying $420,000, to cover his tax liabilities on the money and provide a bonus for his help, prosecutors say. The company mischaracterized the payments as a legal retainer agreement or for services rendered, according to court papers. Weisselberg, who was sentenced Wednesday to 5 months in prison on two counts of perjury, won't testify against his former boss in the hush money trial as part of his plea agreement with Bragg's office.

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

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

The 34 charges of falsifying business records against Trump are divided into 11 different groups of three types of records that the prosecution says were bogus: invoices, ledger entries and checks and stubs, according to Blanche.

The defense lawyer maintains that no crime was committed because these are not business records and the checks were written off a personal account and from an account for the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust.

“Records of the payments were maintained by the Trump Organization, not as Trump Organization records, but as the personal records of President Trump,” he wrote in a recent filing.

Burke said that the defense’s argument is weak.

“New York law defines ‘business record’ very broadly,” she said. “When you’re writing checks and doctored ledger entries and invoices maintained by a business, those are definitely business records.”

Cohen likely will be the key witness for both the defense and the prosecution, Burke said.

The former lawyer was sentenced to 3 years in federal prison in 2018 after pleading guilty to taking part in the efforts to paying off the women and the door attendant to secure Trump the presidency. He was released in 2020.

“Michael Cohen is going to testify and say that Trump was all over it. He’s going to tie it to the election,” Burke said.

Cohen also pleaded guilty in 2018 to perjury before Congress, giving the defense lawyers room to undermine his credibility.

“He will be cross-examined vigorously,” she said.

Another hurdle in the case is the prosecution's legal theory that Trump covered up the violation of federal campaign finance law by violating state law in doctoring the business records, said the Hofstra law professor, who teaches criminal law and has been following the case in the news.

“One issue is you're using state law as a basis,” she said. “You're using state law and applying it to a federal election, and [defense lawyers] could argue that that's preemptive that you can't do that.”

Defense lawyers also could raise the question of why the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office went after Cohen for the campaign cover-up crime but did not charge Trump under the same federal statutes.

“The jury might try to draw an inference from that, that there’s something hinky about it,” Burke said.

The case has been the stage for considerable political theater leading up to opening arguments.

Judge Juan Merchan in Manhattan Supreme Court in 2011.

Judge Juan Merchan in Manhattan Supreme Court in 2011. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Attacks by the former president against the district attorney, his family and the judge and his family have led the presiding judge, acting Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, a Hofstra law school graduate, to not only repeatedly admonish Trump, but to place a gag order in the case barring him from further statements.

“The average observer must now, after hearing [Trump's] recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well,” the judge wrote in a March filing.

Burke said it would be unlikely for the judge to exercise his power to incarcerate the former president for contempt of court.

She acknowledged that Trump could also see time behind bars if convicted, but she said that she doubted Merchan would go that far.

“Most judges are institutionalists,” she said. “So they’re concerned about doing something completely unprecedented. In the United States, the country will be forever changed if a president goes to prison for stuff he did while he was in office or while he was running for office.”

Aside from the legal precedent that this case promises to set, the political impact could ripple through to the national election in November.

The trial could be an opportunity for Trump to close some of the gap in campaign funds between him and Biden, according to Suffolk County-based political consultant Michael Dawidziak.

Biden and the Democratic Party shared accounts have accrued $192 million going into April compared to Trump and Republican Party coffers which have raised $65.6 million, according to a recent New York Times article.

“He can use this to go to his base and say, ‘Look, they’re persecuting me. They're afraid of me,” said Dawidziak, who worked on George H.W. Bush’s campaign. “I think it allows him to appear like a martyr to his base and therefore a vehicle to raise campaign cash out of it.”

That will appeal to Trump’s MAGA base, the pundit said, but it won’t win him any converts among moderate Republicans or independents.

“His base is not going to go anywhere. Now, all that being said, he has clear problems with outside of his base,” Dawidziak said.

Republican primary results in Iowa and New Hampshire and other states, the pundit said, showed Trump winning with 50% to 70%.

“Somewhere between 20, 40, even 50% of Republican primary voters are saying that they don’t want Trump as their standard-bearer,” he said. “You have to question if that’s his numbers with a hard-core Republican base, what is it among independents and possibly moderate Republicans that he needs to win the presidency?”

Dawidziak said that trying to use the trial as a platform won't appeal to moderates and independents.

“If he's not going to address [swing voter], if he's going to continue to use these types of vehicles to say, ‘See, I'm martyr,’ that's not going to get it done come November.”

He said that Long Islanders tend to be smarter than average voters that he’s seen in campaigns around the country.

“Long Islanders tend to make up their own minds about things,” he said.

Dawidziak also said that for most candidates, going on trial for covering up an extramarital affair would be the end of their political career.

“You just can’t say that for Donald Trump,” he said. “What's unique in this election is that it's a race with two incumbents who are both underwater as far as their approval ratings are concerned. The irony here is you might think Donald Trump can't beat anybody, except possibly Joe Biden.”

From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

Elisa DiStefano kick-starts summer with the Fun Book show From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book.

From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book. Credit: Newsday Staff

Elisa DiStefano kick-starts summer with the Fun Book show From new rides at Adventureland to Long Island's best seafood restaurants to must-see summer concerts, here's your inside look at Newsday's summer Fun Book.

Latest video

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME