Donald Trump's Historic Criminal Trial Gets Underway In New York City


Photo: CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP / Getty Images

The historic criminal trial against former President Donald Trump starts on Monday (April 15) in New York City with jury selection. Trump is the first president to face a criminal trial.

He is facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records relating to hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election. Because this is a criminal trial, Trump is required to be in attendance every day.

Before jury selection began, Judge Juan Merchan handled several outstanding motions and scheduling issues. He denied a request by Trump's lawyers to recuse himself from the bench.

Judge Merchan said he would allow prosecutors to present several stories from the National Inquirer as part of their efforts to show Trump had editorial control to kill or edit stories that were harmful to him and his campaign.

However, Merchan did rule against prosecutors, saying they could not play the infamous Access Hollywood tape in which Trump made obscene comments that were captured by a hot mic. He also said they can't bring up any claims of sexual assault made against Trump.

Merchan said he would allow Karen McDougal to testify but limited the scope of what she could speak about. McDougal also claimed that she had an affair with Trump. She was paid $150,000 by American Media Inc., the parent company of National Enquirer, for the rights to her story.

However, the company shut down the story in a practice known as "catch and kill."

Merchan did not rule on a potential gag order violation by Trump over his recent statements and social media posts. Merchan said he will hold a hearing on that matter next week.

When asked if Trump could attend Supreme Court hearings next week on whether the former president is immune from prosecution, Merchan responded that he would see him "here next week."

Merchan did not say whether he would allow Trump to skip the trial so he could attend his son's high school graduation on May 17.

"It really depends on if we are on time and where we are in the trial," Merchan said.

The trial is expected to last between seven and eight weeks. It will feature testimony from Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, former Trump aide Hope Hicks, and David Pecker, then-chairmen of AMI, which publishes the National Inquirer.

Donald Trump says that he plans to testify in his defense. Trump's lawyers will also call Bradley Smith to the stand. Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, will testify as an expert witness about campaign finance laws.

Jury selection will not be easy, as both sides work to ensure the jurors will be impartial. To do so, eighteen jurors will be called in at a time and asked to read their answers to 42 questions on various topics, including what news sources they watch and whether they have ever attended a pro- or anti-Trump rally.

After they answer the 42 questions, prosecutors and Trump's attorneys will be allowed to ask follow-up questions.

On Monday, 96 prospective jurors were vetted, and more than half were excused because they admitted they could not be fair and impartial. That is a much higher percentage than Trump's lawyers were expecting.

Overall, 18 potential jurors were called to the jury box for further questioning. Judge Merchan questioned nine of the jurors before the trial was adjourned for the day.

The process is expected to take one week.

Trump is also facing criminal charges for allegedly taking classified materials from the White House after leaving office and is facing charges in Georiga of election interference in a sprawling RICO case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

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