Opening statements began Monday in the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump. Credit: Linda Rosier; Associated Press

Former President Donald Trump orchestrated a six-figure hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to ensure the American public never learned of their alleged affair and to protect his chances at winning the 2016 presidential election, a prosecutor said in opening statements at Trump's historic election interference trial Monday.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up,” said Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Colangelo in his roughly 40-minute opening statement. “The defendant Donald Trump orchestrated a scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election.”

Trump's defense counsel, in his own opening statement, countered that Trump, who is currently running for a second term as president, is not guilty of the charges because he played no role in producing the business records prosecutors say were falsified to cover up the payment to keep Daniels quiet about the alleged affair.

“President Trump is innocent; President Trump did not commit any crimes,” lead Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche said. “The Manhattan DA should have never brought this case. You heard this a few times this morning and you will hear it a few more times. The government, they have the burden of proof to prove Donald Trump guilty.”

The opening statements were delivered Monday morning inside the 15th-floor courtroom of Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan before the jury of seven men and five women, as well as six alternates, impaneled to hear the evidence in the case and decide Trump's fate.

Trump, the first current or former president to go on trial on criminal charges, did not appear to react as prosecutors laid out the allegations against him in detail.

Trump, 77, allegedly directed his personal attorney, Lawrence native Michael Cohen, to make a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels, the adult film star whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford. Prosecutors have said the payment was illegally recorded as legal services as part of a retainer agreement, but the retainer did not exist and no legal services were rendered.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple,” Colangelo said. “We’ll never know and it doesn’t matter whether this conspiracy was a difference-maker in a close election.”

Blanche rejected the prosecution's assertion that the payoff was part of a conspiracy to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.

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

But Trump, prosecutors told the jury on Monday, “formed a conspiracy” with Cohen, then Trump's personal attorney and fixer, and David Pecker, former chairman and CEO of the parent company of The National Enquirer tabloid, during a meeting in August 2015 at Trump Tower to conceal negative information about Trump from becoming public. That meeting came two months after Trump famously descended an escalator in Trump Tower and announced his candidacy for president.

“Pecker and Cohen carried out three so-called 'catch and kill' schemes to help the defendant win the election” in violation of federal election law, said Colangelo, referring to the Daniels payoff, including alleged payoffs to another woman, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump, and a door attendant who falsely said Trump had fathered a child outside his marriage. “Pecker was not a publisher; he was acting as a co-conspirator. The evidence will show that this was a highly unusual arrangement even for tabloid journalism.”

Colangelo added: “He agreed to use his tabloid empire to help the defendant’s campaign.”

Following opening statements, Pecker was the prosecution’s first witness. The 72-year-old, who began his testimony by recounting his practice of employing “checkbook journalism” to pay for stories, spent about 25 minutes on the stand and is expected to continue testifying Tuesday. Paying for stories is not a standard practice in journalism.

The criminal charges against Trump stem from the business records Colangelo said were falsified in order to pay off Daniels: 11 invoices requesting payment for legal services, 12 ledger entries and 11 checks for payment, with payment stubs.

“There was no retainer agreement; Cohen was not paid for legal services,” Colangelo said. “The defendant was paying him to silence Stormy Daniels. He wanted to conceal his and others' criminal conduct.”

Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, sat at the defense table during opening statements. Trump's wife, former first lady Melania Trump, did not accompany her husband to court.

Blanche argued Trump was too busy running the country from the Oval Office at the time of the payment to Daniels and had no involvement in the charged crimes of falsifying business records.

“President Trump had nothing to do, nothing to do with the invoice, with the ledger or with the check,” Blanche said. “You’ll learn that President Trump had nothing to do with the 34 pieces of paper except that he signed the checks in the White House while he was trying to run the country.”

Trump is only charged in connection to the Daniels payoff, but prosecutors are allowed to tell the jury about the payoffs to McDougal and the door attendant.

Colangelo foreshadowed some of the evidence the jury will hear, including a phone call that Cohen recorded between himself and Trump, during which they discussed the McDougal payoff. Colangelo also told the jury they’ll see phone records, checks and ledger entries that will prove their case.

“The evidence will show that the defendant desperately did not want information on his affair with Karen McDougal to become public because he thought that it would affect the election,” Colangelo said.

Prosecutors also gave jurors a taste of the “Access Hollywood” tape that nearly derailed Trump’s chances at the presidency and that they plan to present as evidence in the form of a transcript. Trump boasted, in a conversation with then-host Billy Bush, about grabbing women by their genitals, a description that Colangelo said was “sexual assault.”

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Colangelo said, reciting Trump’s words on the tape.

After the tape became public during the campaign, some allies pulled back their endorsements and the GOP considered installing a replacement nominee. The Daniels affair becoming public could have been the death knell to Trump’s campaign, providing more ammunition for Trump to desperately want to silence Daniels, Colangelo said.

The prosecution appeared to face head-on any questions about Cohen’s credibility. Colangelo laid out for the jury that Cohen “made mistakes in his past,” detailing the prosecution witness’ “criminal past” including a prison stint for pleading guilty to crimes.

“He lied,” Colangelo said of Cohen, one of his star witnesses.

 “The defense will go to great lengths to reject this testimony because it’s so damning,” said Colangelo, who added that Cohen’s testimony will be corroborated. 

“Cohen’s testimony will be backed up by others, including Davide Pecker,” Colangelo said. “It will be backed up by records. It will be backed up by Donald Trump’s own words.”

But Blanche excoriated Cohen’s prior conduct, eliciting multiple objections from the prosecution.

“He’s a convicted felon, he’s a convicted perjurer and he’s a liar,” Blanche told the jury.

“He’s obsessed with President Trump. To this day, he’s obsessed about President Trump."

On podcasts Cohen “rants and raves” about Trump, Blanche said.

“He has talked extensively about his desire to see President Trump go to prison. He has talked extensively about President Trump’s family going to jail. … Last night, he called President Trump a despicable human being. He said he wanted to see Mr. Trump in an orange jumpsuit.”

Blanche added: “He has a goal, an obsession with getting President Trump.”

Blanche had less-pointed words for Daniels, the woman at the center of the case, whilet noting perceived inconsistencies in her prior statements. While he pointed out that she’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling her story in a book and through other media, he said that Daniels has “denied any improper relationship with President Trump in writing.”

“Her testimony, while salacious, does not matter,” Blanche said.

Tensions were high during opening statements in the high-stakes case, as the prosecution objected when Blanche alleged Daniels had attempted to extort Trump. It’s rare for either the prosecution or defense to raise objections during opening statements.

“Michael Cohen paying Stormy Daniels or Stefanie Clifford to not spread false claims is not illegal,” Blanche said. “Entering into a nondisclosure agreement is perfectly legal. Companies do it all the time.”

Blanche added: “It was an effort by Stormy Daniels to extort President Trump,” which elicited the prosecution objection, which was sustained. “It was an effort to embarrass President Trump. There was information going all around to damage President Trump.”

Blanche said Trump only signed off on the payment to Daniels to “protect his family, to protect his company and protect his reputation.”

Colangelo, the prosecutor, said it was so important for Trump to hide the payments Cohen made that when he reimbursed Cohen, he also paid him additional money — a total of $420,000.

“We’ll see that when it came to reimbursing Michael Cohen, he didn’t negotiate it down, he doubled it,” Colangelo said. “It shows just how important it was to him to hide Michael Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels to hide his illegal conspiracy.”

Colangelo added: “You will see evidence at trial that Donald Trump was a very frugal business owner. He believed in pinching every penny, he believed at watching every dollar.”

Blanche later countered to the jury: “Ask yourself, would a frugal business owner, who pinches pennies, pay a $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000?”

Before entering the courtroom Monday at 9:28 a.m., Trump addressed a pool camera and journalists in the hallway.

“It's election interference, everybody knows it,” said Trump, in a bright blue tie, before adding. “It's a witch hunt.”

Trump reiterated false claims he's repeatedly made that his presidential opponent, President Joe Biden, is behind his prosecution. The charges were brought against Trump by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, who was elected by Manhattan voters and attended the trial Monday.

“This is done for the purposes of hurting the opponent of the worst president in history,” Trump said, referring to Biden.

Before opening statements began, Juror No. 9 expressed concern about media attention, but after meeting with the judge and lawyers in the case, the judge said the juror would remain on the jury.

On Tuesday morning, the judge will hear arguments for and against holding the former president in contempt for social media posts that he's shared attacking witnesses and the prosecutor in the case.

Former President Donald Trump orchestrated a six-figure hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to ensure the American public never learned of their alleged affair and to protect his chances at winning the 2016 presidential election, a prosecutor said in opening statements at Trump's historic election interference trial Monday.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up,” said Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Colangelo in his roughly 40-minute opening statement. “The defendant Donald Trump orchestrated a scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election.”

Trump's defense counsel, in his own opening statement, countered that Trump, who is currently running for a second term as president, is not guilty of the charges because he played no role in producing the business records prosecutors say were falsified to cover up the payment to keep Daniels quiet about the alleged affair.

“President Trump is innocent; President Trump did not commit any crimes,” lead Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche said. “The Manhattan DA should have never brought this case. You heard this a few times this morning and you will hear it a few more times. The government, they have the burden of proof to prove Donald Trump guilty.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Jurors in the historic hush money payment trial of former President Donald Trump heard opening statements and testimony from the case's first witness as the trial started its second week in a Manhattan courtroom Monday.
  • Prosecutors said Trump orchestrated a six-figure hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels to ensure the American public never learned of their alleged affair and to protect his chances at winning the 2016 presidential election.
  • Lead Trump defense attorney Todd Blanche denied the former president falsified business records, telling jurors, “President Trump is innocent; President Trump did not commit any crimes.”

The opening statements were delivered Monday morning inside the 15th-floor courtroom of Supreme Court Justice Juan M. Merchan before the jury of seven men and five women, as well as six alternates, impaneled to hear the evidence in the case and decide Trump's fate.

Trump, the first current or former president to go on trial on criminal charges, did not appear to react as prosecutors laid out the allegations against him in detail.

Trump, 77, allegedly directed his personal attorney, Lawrence native Michael Cohen, to make a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels, the adult film star whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford. Prosecutors have said the payment was illegally recorded as legal services as part of a retainer agreement, but the retainer did not exist and no legal services were rendered.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple,” Colangelo said. “We’ll never know and it doesn’t matter whether this conspiracy was a difference-maker in a close election.”

Blanche rejected the prosecution's assertion that the payoff was part of a conspiracy to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election.

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

But Trump, prosecutors told the jury on Monday, “formed a conspiracy” with Cohen, then Trump's personal attorney and fixer, and David Pecker, former chairman and CEO of the parent company of The National Enquirer tabloid, during a meeting in August 2015 at Trump Tower to conceal negative information about Trump from becoming public. That meeting came two months after Trump famously descended an escalator in Trump Tower and announced his candidacy for president.

“Pecker and Cohen carried out three so-called 'catch and kill' schemes to help the defendant win the election” in violation of federal election law, said Colangelo, referring to the Daniels payoff, including alleged payoffs to another woman, Karen McDougal, who said she had an affair with Trump, and a door attendant who falsely said Trump had fathered a child outside his marriage. “Pecker was not a publisher; he was acting as a co-conspirator. The evidence will show that this was a highly unusual arrangement even for tabloid journalism.”

Colangelo added: “He agreed to use his tabloid empire to help the defendant’s campaign.”

Following opening statements, Pecker was the prosecution’s first witness. The 72-year-old, who began his testimony by recounting his practice of employing “checkbook journalism” to pay for stories, spent about 25 minutes on the stand and is expected to continue testifying Tuesday. Paying for stories is not a standard practice in journalism.

The criminal charges against Trump stem from the business records Colangelo said were falsified in order to pay off Daniels: 11 invoices requesting payment for legal services, 12 ledger entries and 11 checks for payment, with payment stubs.

“There was no retainer agreement; Cohen was not paid for legal services,” Colangelo said. “The defendant was paying him to silence Stormy Daniels. He wanted to conceal his and others' criminal conduct.”

Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, sat at the defense table during opening statements. Trump's wife, former first lady Melania Trump, did not accompany her husband to court.

Blanche argued Trump was too busy running the country from the Oval Office at the time of the payment to Daniels and had no involvement in the charged crimes of falsifying business records.

“President Trump had nothing to do, nothing to do with the invoice, with the ledger or with the check,” Blanche said. “You’ll learn that President Trump had nothing to do with the 34 pieces of paper except that he signed the checks in the White House while he was trying to run the country.”

Trump is only charged in connection to the Daniels payoff, but prosecutors are allowed to tell the jury about the payoffs to McDougal and the door attendant.

Colangelo foreshadowed some of the evidence the jury will hear, including a phone call that Cohen recorded between himself and Trump, during which they discussed the McDougal payoff. Colangelo also told the jury they’ll see phone records, checks and ledger entries that will prove their case.

“The evidence will show that the defendant desperately did not want information on his affair with Karen McDougal to become public because he thought that it would affect the election,” Colangelo said.

Prosecutors also gave jurors a taste of the “Access Hollywood” tape that nearly derailed Trump’s chances at the presidency and that they plan to present as evidence in the form of a transcript. Trump boasted, in a conversation with then-host Billy Bush, about grabbing women by their genitals, a description that Colangelo said was “sexual assault.”

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Colangelo said, reciting Trump’s words on the tape.

After the tape became public during the campaign, some allies pulled back their endorsements and the GOP considered installing a replacement nominee. The Daniels affair becoming public could have been the death knell to Trump’s campaign, providing more ammunition for Trump to desperately want to silence Daniels, Colangelo said.

The prosecution appeared to face head-on any questions about Cohen’s credibility. Colangelo laid out for the jury that Cohen “made mistakes in his past,” detailing the prosecution witness’ “criminal past” including a prison stint for pleading guilty to crimes.

“He lied,” Colangelo said of Cohen, one of his star witnesses.

 “The defense will go to great lengths to reject this testimony because it’s so damning,” said Colangelo, who added that Cohen’s testimony will be corroborated. 

“Cohen’s testimony will be backed up by others, including Davide Pecker,” Colangelo said. “It will be backed up by records. It will be backed up by Donald Trump’s own words.”

But Blanche excoriated Cohen’s prior conduct, eliciting multiple objections from the prosecution.

“He’s a convicted felon, he’s a convicted perjurer and he’s a liar,” Blanche told the jury.

“He’s obsessed with President Trump. To this day, he’s obsessed about President Trump."

On podcasts Cohen “rants and raves” about Trump, Blanche said.

“He has talked extensively about his desire to see President Trump go to prison. He has talked extensively about President Trump’s family going to jail. … Last night, he called President Trump a despicable human being. He said he wanted to see Mr. Trump in an orange jumpsuit.”

Blanche added: “He has a goal, an obsession with getting President Trump.”

Blanche had less-pointed words for Daniels, the woman at the center of the case, whilet noting perceived inconsistencies in her prior statements. While he pointed out that she’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling her story in a book and through other media, he said that Daniels has “denied any improper relationship with President Trump in writing.”

“Her testimony, while salacious, does not matter,” Blanche said.

Tensions were high during opening statements in the high-stakes case, as the prosecution objected when Blanche alleged Daniels had attempted to extort Trump. It’s rare for either the prosecution or defense to raise objections during opening statements.

“Michael Cohen paying Stormy Daniels or Stefanie Clifford to not spread false claims is not illegal,” Blanche said. “Entering into a nondisclosure agreement is perfectly legal. Companies do it all the time.”

Blanche added: “It was an effort by Stormy Daniels to extort President Trump,” which elicited the prosecution objection, which was sustained. “It was an effort to embarrass President Trump. There was information going all around to damage President Trump.”

Blanche said Trump only signed off on the payment to Daniels to “protect his family, to protect his company and protect his reputation.”

Colangelo, the prosecutor, said it was so important for Trump to hide the payments Cohen made that when he reimbursed Cohen, he also paid him additional money — a total of $420,000.

“We’ll see that when it came to reimbursing Michael Cohen, he didn’t negotiate it down, he doubled it,” Colangelo said. “It shows just how important it was to him to hide Michael Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels to hide his illegal conspiracy.”

Colangelo added: “You will see evidence at trial that Donald Trump was a very frugal business owner. He believed in pinching every penny, he believed at watching every dollar.”

Blanche later countered to the jury: “Ask yourself, would a frugal business owner, who pinches pennies, pay a $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000?”

Before entering the courtroom Monday at 9:28 a.m., Trump addressed a pool camera and journalists in the hallway.

“It's election interference, everybody knows it,” said Trump, in a bright blue tie, before adding. “It's a witch hunt.”

Trump reiterated false claims he's repeatedly made that his presidential opponent, President Joe Biden, is behind his prosecution. The charges were brought against Trump by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, who was elected by Manhattan voters and attended the trial Monday.

“This is done for the purposes of hurting the opponent of the worst president in history,” Trump said, referring to Biden.

Before opening statements began, Juror No. 9 expressed concern about media attention, but after meeting with the judge and lawyers in the case, the judge said the juror would remain on the jury.

On Tuesday morning, the judge will hear arguments for and against holding the former president in contempt for social media posts that he's shared attacking witnesses and the prosecutor in the case.

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.

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