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Carolina Pachetti / Gavel Media

Former President Trump Goes on Trial for Hush Money

On April 18, former President Donald Trump began the first of his four criminal trials in New York, the first time in the United States history for a former President to be on trial. Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury in March of last year for allegedly falsifying up to 34 financial records prior to the 2016 election. 

The records were supposedly altered to cover up hush money payments to various persons to bury potential scandals, most infamous of which is a payment of $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in exchange for silence about a supposed affair between the two. 

Most of payments and records alterations were done by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, but prosecutors alleged that Cohen only did so under Trump’s direction. For his part, Cohen is set to serve as a state witness against Trump, much like he did before the grand jury just last year.

The trial is expected to take 6-8 weeks and will require Trump to be present in the courtroom over the trial’s proceedings, occupying the former President during his presidential election campaign. Judge Menchen, who is overseeing the trial, has not seemed persuaded to give the former President more leeway with regard to being absent from the courtroom then any other defendant, even hinting that the former President may not be able to attend his son’s highschool graduation.

Before the trial could even begin, attorneys found themselves in the awkward position of assembling a jury that could fairly and impartially judge the former President. Judge Menchen had forbidden the attorneys from inquiring about potential jurors' political affiliation or voting history, but they were open to questions about potential affiliations with organizations tied to, or against, the former President. 

In order to prevent potential witness intimidation, a partial gag order has been issued preventing the former President from talking or posting about the prosecutors, the jurors, or their families. Even with this precaution, one juror has already expressed fear that their identity could be exposed and requested to be excused. Later that day, 12 jurors were found, not including the six alternatives. 

Should Trump be found guilty of any of the up to 34 counts of falsifying records, he can face up to four years in prison. However, the actual penalty will be left up to Judge Menchen’s discretion.

The Manhattan trial is only one of four criminal trials the former President is facing. Three others are scheduled to go to trial later this year. The former President's first trial was supposed to be for his attempts at overturning the 2020 election with special counsel Jack Smith, but that decision has been delayed until the Supreme Court makes a crucial ruling on presidential immunity scheduled for April 22. Trump is specifically indicted on accounts to defraud the U.S government, interrupt an official proceeding, and to violate the voting rights of U.S citizens.

Trump’s other two trial dates remain up in the air, awaiting decisions from Judges. Judge Aileen Cannon has not provided a definitive date for the classified document’s case, where Trump stands accused of keeping classified documents in his private residence after his term as President. 

Prosecutors want the trial to start sometime in the summer and expect the trial to be 4-5 weeks long. Trump's defense attorneys wish to push back the trial to August or even after the election date. Trump is also facing charges in Georgia for what prosecutors say was an attempt at overturning the election in Georgia by “finding” 11,000 more votes. 

This particular case is unique in that it uses Georgia’s RICO statute, something traditionally used to tackle organized crime. The case has been plagued by scandal because of the relationship between District Attorney of Fulton County, Fani Willis, and prosecutor Nathan Wade, resulting in the latter’s stepping down from the case. Nonetheless, Fani Willis plans to schedule the trial for some time this summer, though an official date has not been set yet.

Though it will likely be months before any one of these trials concludes, not even including the appeals process, these cases come at a crucial time for the former President, as the months leading up to the November election will see the former President dozing off in a courtroom, rather than rallying on the campaign trail.

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