Donald Trump hush money trial in New York

Politics

Former President Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan criminal court with his legal team ahead of the start of jury selection in New York on April 15, 2024.

Jabin Botsford | Via Reuters

Prosecutors on Monday asked a New York judge to sanction Donald Trump for violating a gag order by commenting on likely witnesses at the former president’s criminal hush money trial.

The request came as the jury selection process began for the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president. It could take a week or more to finish selecting jurors before testimony begins.

“He is a criminal defendant, and like all criminal defendants, he is subject to court supervision,” assistant District Attorney Chris Conroy told Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan as Trump looked on in court.

Conroy pointed to three recent social media posts that referenced Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, and Stormy Daniels, the porn star whose receipt of a $130,000 hush money payment from Cohen is at the center of the criminal case.

The prosecutor asked Merchan to impose a $1,000 sanction for each of the three posts and order Trump to take them down.

The prosecutors also want Merchan to warn Trump that another violation could result in jail time.

The judge said he would hold a hearing on the request on April 24.

The first group of potential jurors to enter the jury box stared frequently at Trump while Merchan explained the case to them. Trump occasionally glanced back at them.

After the trial adjourned Monday afternoon, Trump accused Merchan of refusing to let him skip court on May 17 to attend the high school graduation of his youngest son, Barron Trump.

It “looks like the judge will not let me go” to the graduation, Trump said outside the courtroom.

In fact, Merchan declined to rule on whether the trial will be held on that date. He said it will depend on how the trial is going.

Merchan was also asked to allow Trump to travel to Washington, D.C., next Thursday to hear his lawyers argue with federal prosecutors before the Supreme Court as part of another criminal case against Trump.

Those oral arguments will center on whether Trump, as a former president, is immune from being charged with trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office opposed the request to let Trump go to D.C. Merchan noted that Trump is not required to be at the Supreme Court, but he is required by law to attend the hush money trial, which is expected to last six weeks or more.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche griped that the trial of Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, should not have been scheduled during the presidential election cycle. Merchan shot back, “You don’t think you should be here at all?”

Outside of court, Trump complained that Merchan “thinks he’s superior” to the Supreme Court, and once again accused him of having a conflict of interest.

“We’re not going to be given a fair trial,” Trump claimed before departing the courthouse.

So ended the first day of Trump’s first criminal trial, which might be the only one to come prior to the Nov. 5 presidential election.

Trump’s lawyers last week repeatedly sought to delay Monday’s start date with last-ditch efforts in an appeals court, but those efforts failed.

In all, defense attorneys tried about a dozen times to dismiss or delay the trial, but only succeeded in pushing it back by a few weeks.

In this courtroom sketch, former U.S. President Donald Trump enters the courtroom at the beginning of his trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, in Manhattan state court in New York City on April 15, 2024

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Merchan began the proceedings Monday by rejecting Trump’s request that the judge step off the case due to an alleged conflict as a result of Merchan’s daughter’s work for a digital fundraising and advertising firm whose clients have included Vice President Kamala Harris.

The gag order on Trump, imposed last month, was expanded April 1 after the former president repeatedly targeted the judge’s daughter on social media.

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Trump is charged with nearly three dozen counts of falsifying business records. Bragg has accused Trump of filing business records that hid the true purpose of the payment Cohen made to Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

Cohen, who is expected to testify against Trump, said he paid Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual tryst with the then-GOP nominee years earlier. Trump has denied having sex with Daniels.

Michael Cohen, former attorney for Donald Trump, leaves after attending the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Oct. 24, 2023.

Jeenah Moon | Reuters

Trump said several days ago that he would be willing to testify under oath.

Trump is also charged in three other criminal cases.

Two of them — one in federal court in Washington, D.C., the other in Georgia state court — are related to his attempt to reverse his 2020 loss to Biden, which included unsuccessfully pressuring state election officials and legislators to effectively nullify Biden’s victory in several swing states.

The other criminal case, in federal court in Florida, is for charges related to his retention of classified government records after he left the White House, and his alleged efforts to hide the records from government officials when they sought their return.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of his criminal cases.

Although Bragg’s prosecution of Trump was long considered the least serious of the cases, the New York trial may ultimately prove to be the most consequential for Trump.

As a result of a sustained effort by Trump’s team to either dismiss his indictments or delay his trials, the hush money case could be the only one that goes to trial in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign.

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