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Trump arrives at NY court for opening statements in criminal trial

By AFP

April 22, 2024 06:41 PM


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Donald Trump arrived at a Manhattan courthouse Monday for opening statements in his high-stakes criminal trial, the first ever of a former president, with proceedings set to run in parallel with his attempt to retake the White House.

The historic case poses substantial risks for Trump less than seven months before his election rematch with President Joe Biden.

Prosecution witnesses are expected to include adult film actress Stormy Daniels -- who says she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, a claim he denies -- and Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, offering an insight into the 77-year-old tycoon's personal and business habits.

The identities of the jury's five women and seven men are being kept secret for their protection.

Security was tight Monday after a man set himself on fire last week outside the courthouse in an unrelated but gruesome incident.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to pay $130,000 in "hush money" to Daniels to ensure an account of their alleged tryst did not get published ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The alleged crime is less significant than the indictments in three other investigations revolving around Trump's attack on the 2020 election -- which the Republican lost to Democrat Biden -- and his hoarding of secret documents.

Trump could face jail time in the current case, although a fine or probation is more likely, analysts say.

The trial in a dingy courtroom under massive media scrutiny will keep Trump off the campaign trail for four days a week over a possibly six-to-eight-week period, while Biden hammers him from the White House and around the country.

Monday is expected to see each camp to lay out their case to jurors and mount preemptive attacks on the opposing side's witnesses.

"This is going to be the beginning of probably the most sensational trial in American history," former prosecutor Bennett Gershman, now a lecturer at Pace University, told AFP.

"The stakes are almost infinite in terms of what the consequences could be... Every day we're going to be hearing testimony that's going to be damaging to Mr Trump."

 Trump rants 

Trump has railed against the case, particularly what he calls the "very unfair" partial gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan to prevent him from using his media presence to attack witnesses, prosecutors, and relatives of court staff.

He ranted again overnight, taking to his Truth Social platform to decry the "Corrupt and Highly Conflicted Judge" overseeing the case.

"It is a sham that should not have been brought, except to try and damage Biden's political opponent, me," Trump wrote in capital letters.

"See you tomorrow morning!"

A hearing also will be held Tuesday at which Merchan will decide if Trump is already in contempt of court due to his outbursts during jury selection.

"We are still considering our options... as far as what sanctions we will be asking for," prosecutor Josh Steinglass said last week.

Merchan chastised Trump for apparently muttering and gesturing within earshot of prospective jurors last week.

"I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom," he said.

'Witch hunt'? 

Court hearings have already disrupted Trump's campaigning plans, forcing him to sit silently in the chilly courthouse for hours. However, he has used the heavy media attention to amplify his claims of a "witch hunt" in impromptu statements outside the courtroom.

The Republican's three other criminal cases have been repeatedly delayed due to his successful strategy of challenging every step.

However, Merchan has run the New York fraud trial on a tight schedule.

Potential jurors were grilled last week by prosecutors and defense attorneys about their media habits, political donations, education, and whether they have attended pro- or anti-Trump rallies.

Many potential panelists were excused after saying they could not be impartial before lawyers and the judge whittled down the group to 12 jurors with six alternates.

A unanimous verdict will be required to convict Trump, who has been ordered to attend each day of the trial.


AFP


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