Trump set for historical trial in just HOURS - here's everything you need to know

​Donald Trump

Donald Trump will go on trial today

Ray Addison

By Ray Addison

Published: 15/04/2024

- 09:05

The former President will go on trial later today

The US is just hours away from Donald Trump's hush money trial, and the first criminal prosecution of a former president in its 237-year history.

On Monday at 2.30pm (9.30am in the US), the 45th president of the United States will enter a Manhattan courtroom for what is likely to be his only criminal trial before the general election.

All efforts by Trump’s lawyers to delay and dismiss the prosecution have failed and he will finally face 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Whatever the verdict, the trial is likely to have an enormous ripple effect across the United States and could play a pivotal role in who becomes the next president.

Here’s everything you need to know about this historic case.

The trial is likely to have an enormous ripple effect across the United States


The allegations

It's alleged that Trump falsified business records to cover up sexual encounters with two mistresses, as part of efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Playboy model Karen McDougal was paid $150,000 by the National Enquirer’s parent company AMI for the rights to her story in a practice commonly known as ‘catch and kill’.

AMI also paid to bury unsubstantiated claims by former Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock.

The second woman, adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen borrowed money against his home to make that payment.

He was then reimbursed using checks signed by Trump and these payments were recorded as legal fees.

Prosecutors say that’s a violation of federal campaign finance law and New York State election law.

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied any encounter with the women.

His attorneys argue Trump did nothing unlawful as he paid his personal attorney using his personal bank accounts.

Trump also claims these charges are politically motivated as part of efforts to re-elect President Biden.

Stormy Daniels outside courtThe former President has been accused of paying money for porn star Stormy DanielsReuters

How serious are the charges?

Falsifying business records is typically classified as a misdemeanour under New York law.

However, this has been elevated to a Class E felony because prosecutors say it was designed to commit or conceal another crime - namely campaign finance and tax issues.

If Trump is found guilty, each count he is charged with is punishable by up to a maximum of four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Most legal commentators do not expect Trump to receive any prison time if found guilty and instead say he could be handed probation.

Jury selection

At least the first week of the trial will be taken up with the critically important step of selecting 12 jurors and up to six alternates.

Trump’s lawyers have argued he could not get a fair trial in Manhattan, however, an attempt to move the case to a different jurisdiction failed.

Potential jurors have been randomly selected from voter rolls and other state records.

During the selection process, they will be asked to answer a questionnaire about what type of media they consume and whether they support movements such as Antifa and QAnon.

Lawyers for both sides will then have the opportunity to question them with the aim of uncovering any biases.

Trial judge Justice Juan Merchan has indicated he will not disqualify anyone based solely on how they vote, but those who admit they cannot be fair and impartial will be excused immediately.

Due to concerns about potential harassment, the jury pool will remain anonymous throughout the trial.

The judge

Justice Juan Merchan has been a Manhattan criminal court judge since 2009.

He was born in Colombia and moved to the United States at age 6, growing up in New York.

Merchan graduated from Hofstra University School of Law and began his legal career in the same District Attorney's office that is now prosecuting Trump.

In 2023 he oversaw a criminal trial which ended with the Trump Organization convicted of tax fraud and ordered to pay $1.6million.

Trump recently posted on Truth Social that Judge Merchan “hates me” and has accused him of treating his company “viciously”.

Key witnesses

Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougall and Michael Cohen are all expected to be witnesses for the prosecution.

They’ll be joined by Alan Weisselberg, Former Chief Financial Officer for the Trump Organization who has already served time for helping to orchestrate a tax fraud scheme at the company.

Donald Trump has also said he will testify, however, he has been known to change his mind in previous trials.

We may get a better idea during jury selection if Trump really intends to testify or not.

The verdict

For Trump personally, and the American people generally, the stakes are extremely high.

The case is expected to have a huge impact on the 2024 election which latest polling suggests hinges on razor-thin margins.

The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks and Trump will be required to sit in the courtroom for the entire trial which will drastically impact the time he has to campaign.

On the other hand, with the world’s media camped outside the Manhattan courtroom, Trump will be given daily opportunities to make political statements.

To achieve a conviction prosecutors will need to convince all 12 jurors that Trump is guilty. If even one juror holds out, he will be acquitted.

While a conviction would not bar Trump from office, it is likely to have a profound effect on how the public sees him.

Polls have found that at least some Trump supporters would find it hard to vote for a convicted fellon.

If Trump is acquitted it could be an enormous personal boost, bolstering the narrative that he’s being unfairly targeted by the US justice system.

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