Trump trial: Former president tried to 'corrupt' 2016 election, prosecutor alleges

The opening statements have been delivered to the jurors in Donald Trump's hush money trial ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

Donald Trump "orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt” the 2016 presidential election when he conspired to prevent damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public, a prosecutor told jurors at the start of the former president's historic hush money trial.

On Monday, both the prosecution and defence gave their opening statements to the 12 jurors.

“The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo began.

A defence lawyer countered by saying that Trump “was innocent” and that the case should never have been brought in the first place.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records - a charge punishable by up to four years in prison - to disguise payments made by Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen to adult film actress Stormy Daniels totaling $130,000 to buy her silence during the 2016 presidential campaign about a sexual encounter she says happened in 2006. Trump has denied the affair.

In his opening statements, Mr Colangelo described the beginning of the timeline as the 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump could be heard boasting about grabbing women sexually without their permission.

“The impact of that tape on the campaign was immediate and explosive,” Mr Colangelo said, recounting for jurors how prominent Trump allies withdrew their endorsements and condemned his language.

The prosecutor said evidence will show the Republican National Committee even considered whether it was possible to replace Trump with another candidate.

Within days of the “Access Hollywood” tape becoming public, Mr Colangelo told jurors that The National Enquirer alerted Cohen that Daniels was agitating to go public with her claims.

“At Trump’s direction, Mr Cohen negotiated a deal to buy Ms Daniels’ story to prevent American voters from hearing that story before Election Day,” Colangelo told jurors.

The prosecutor described other payments as well that were part of a “catch-and-kill” ploy.

Mr Colangelo also talked about arrangements made to pay a former Playboy model $150,000 to suppress her claims of a nearly yearlong affair with Trump.

Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 by Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen. Credit: AP

He said Trump “desperately did not want this information about Karen McDougal to become public because he was worried about its effect on the election.”

He told jurors they will hear a recording Mr Cohen made in September 2016 of himself briefing Trump on the plan to buy McDougal’s story.

The recording was made public in July 2018. Mr Colangelo told jurors they hear Trump in his own voice, saying: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

In his opening statement, Trump's attorney Todd Blanche noted that the defence team would refer to their client as “President Trump” out of respect.

He earned that title, Mr Blanche said, “because he was our 45th president.” But he added: “He’s a man. He’s a husband. He’s a father. He’s a person just like you and just like me.”

Mr Blanche told the jury that they would find “plenty of reasonable doubt” enabling them to acquit his client.

“The 34 counts, ladies and gentlemen, are really just pieces of paper,” he added.

“None of this was a crime.” He suggested the payments to Mr Cohen “were not a payback,” noting the lawyer was paid $420,000 - much more than the hush money for which prosecutors allege he was reimbursed.

Mr Blanche described Cohen as being "obsessed with President Trump, even to this day," noting Cohen's podcast and other public commentary.

"He has a goal, an obsession with getting President Trump," Blanche said. "I submit to you that he cannot be trusted."

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