Donald Trump is about to become the first former US president to be on criminal trial

Trump is accused of falsifying business records 34 times, ITV News' US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

Donald Trump is about to become the first former US President to stand trial for a serious crime (known as a felony in the United States).

The most succinct summary came from the man prosecuting this, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

He claims "Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg who brought the Hush Money case against former President Trump. Credit: AP

Trump is accused of falsifying business records 34 times to conceal the breaking of political campaign finance laws by his lawyer Michael Cohen.

The prosecution will seek to show Trump covered up the reimbursement of Cohen, who had bought the silence of former adult film star Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford).

It’s alleged Trump had an affair with Daniels and had sex with her once while married to Melania Trump, although he has always denied it.

For prosecutors to successfully convict Trump on felony charges they must prove not only that the Trump organisation falsified business records (a lesser misdemeanour charge), but also that Donald Trump falsified those records to bury a negative story about him, which may have cost him the 2016 election.

They will seek to show that Trump authorised hush-money payments repeatedly as part of a wider strategy of similar hush-money ploys in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Why could hush-money payments be a crime?

The crime here is falsifying business records.

But prosecutors are trying to convict him of a felony by claiming he falsified business records to hide another crime: campaign finance violations by Michael Cohen.

Cohen pled guilty to these crimes in August 2018 and was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to charges including campaign finance fraud in 2018. Credit: AP

In America, there are strict rules which limit the amount individuals can contribute to a candidate’s campaign. In 2016 this was $2700 for an individual candidate and $33,400 for a party.

Michael Cohen admitted to breaking this limit when he paid off Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016, in a hush-money deal which it was argued, benefited Trump’s campaign.

It happened just before the election in 2016.

Cohen has now turned against Donald Trump, claiming the former President knew of the plan to pay off Daniels.

The scheme to pay Cohen back was confirmed in the Oval Office while Trump was President.

A copy of a check from Donald Trump to Michael Cohen was shown at a House Committee hearing in 2019. Credit: AP

The reimbursement was disguised as a legal retainer but Cohen admitted he provided no legal services for this money.

Cohen was repaid $420,000 which he claimed, covered his taxes and a bonus.

The payments were made in a series of cheques for $35,000 most of which were personally signed by Trump while he was President.

Who will appear in the case?Donald Trump is obliged to attend every day.

Witnesses in the case are expected to include Trump’s former Director of Strategic Communications, Hope Hicks, who allegedly also knew of the payments.

Former White House communications director, Hope Hicks who is expected to testify in the trial. Credit: AP

Michael Cohen will be the key witness in this trial and the defence will attack his credibility, given he is a convicted criminal.

Stormy Daniels is also expected to testify and may be questioned about her alleged affair with Trump. She has previously gone into extensive detail about their night of passion and the physical characteristics of his genitalia.

Is it all about Stormy?

The case is centred on Stormy Daniels but prosecutors will detail another hush-money payment to silence former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who claims she also had an affair with Trump while married to Melania.

Adult film actress, Stormy Daniels leaving a New York federal court in 2018. Credit: AP

This is part of their effort to show Trump was involved in a wider conspiracy to bury negative stories about him.

Cohen recorded his conversation with Trump about this payment to McDougal in September 2016. CNN obtained the tape and you can hear it here.

The McDougal story was bought by American Media Inc., owners of the National Enquirer tabloid, as part of a “catch and kill” operation to bury it.

AMI has acknowledged it paid Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story to help Trump’s campaign and was ordered to pay $187,500 as a fine. AMI’s Chief Executive, David Pecker is expected to testify in this trial.

So just two hush-money payments?Well, there’s a third.

Another “catch and kill” story is connected to this case, involving paying off a doorman at Trump Tower, Dino Sajudin.

He was given $30,000 by AMI for his story about information concerning a baby Trump is alleged to have fathered out of wedlock.

Trump always denied the claim and it has been discredited. David Pecker bought Sajudin’s story ensuring it never ran.

Could Trump go to prison?

Theoretically. Each count is a class E felony carrying a sentence of four years.

However, Trump will likely appeal this case if he loses, and given he has no previous convictions he is unlikely to face the stiffest end of the sentencing spectrum.

What is happening this week?

This is the formal beginning of the trial when the jury is selected.

Unlike the UK, jury selection is a more lengthy process with both defence and prosecution trying to winnow out any jurors they think are biased or unsuitable.

Given how high profile Donald Trump is, they won’t have a jury who have never heard of him, but they will be asked about their political affiliations and interests.

They will be given a 42-question form to complete asking about which media they consume, if they or their family have ever worked for Trump, follow him on social media, work for an anti-Trump organisation, or are members of fringe organisations like QAnon or the Proud Boys.

It is unclear how long jury selection may last, it may take two weeks or even longer.

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