Trump hush money trial was ‘election fraud pure and simple’, prosecutors say

Donald Trump “orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election” by covering up an alleged affair with the adult film star Stormy Daniels, the prosecution said on Monday in its opening statement in the former president’s hush-money trial.

A jury of seven men and five women living in Manhattan will weigh whether Trump’s alleged efforts to conceal an affair with Daniels, which he feared would damage his 2016 election bid, were illicit. Trump was charged in the spring of 2023 with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

The case, brought by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, hinges on a $130,000 payment that Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, made to Daniels to keep her story under wraps. Bragg contends that Trump masked the true nature of the payment in business records by describing them as lawful legal expenses.

In his opening statements on Monday, the prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told jurors that Trump invited his friend – David Pecker, the head of the National Enquirer’s publisher, AMI – to a meeting at Trump Tower in summer 2015. Trump had recently thrown his hat into the ring for the 2016 Republican nomination, and Colangelo said Trump and Pecker hatched a plan to keep damaging information about Trump out of the press.

According to the prosecution, Pecker agreed to run damaging information in the National Enquirer about opponents – including an item claiming, falsely, that Senator Ted Cruz had family connections to the JFK assassination – as well as buying up negative stories for the express purpose of preventing them from being published.

Colangelo said this “catch-and-kill” campaign was geared towards helping Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

He mentioned an earlier payment to Karen McDougal, the Playboy model who claimed to have had an affair with Trump. “Pecker will also testify that $150,000 was way more than AMI would normally pay for this kind of story, but he discussed it with Donald Trump and he discussed it with Michael Cohen, and he agreed on the deal with the understanding what Trump would find a way to pay AMI back,” Colangelo said. “The company coordinated directly with the candidate.”

He also read out a transcript of Trump’s infamous comments, caught on a hot mic, on the set of the Access Hollywood television show, where Trump bragged he could sexually assault women because he was famous. Colangelo quoted Trump saying: “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything … Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

Noting that the video was released to the public in October 2016, one month before election day, Colangelo said: “The campaign went into immediate damage control mode” and tried to frame the remarks as “locker room talk” – but were terrified the Stormy Daniels allegation would show that his boorish behavior extended to actions, not just talk.

“Another story about infidelity, with a porn star, on the heels of the Access Hollywood tape, would have been devastating to his campaign,” Colangelo said.

Cohen was therefore tasked with handling the payoff to Daniels, for $130,000, which Trump is alleged to have repaid to him after the election in checks that were listed in business records as legal services. Colangelo said that was a lie. “The defendant was paying him back for an illegal payment to Stormy Daniels on the eve of the election.

“He wanted to conceal his and others’ criminal conduct.”

“Look, no politician wants bad press, but the evidence at trial will show that this wasn’t spin or communication strategy,” Colangelo said. “This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures – to silence people with something bad to say about his behavior,” Colangelo said.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

Colangelo added that “we’ll never know” whether this conspiracy made the difference “in a close election”.

Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018, is expected to be one of the prosecution’s star witnesses. Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels and insists payments to Cohen were above-board legal expenses.

The New York City case is just one of several criminal proceedings against Trump. He faces federal charges in relation to the January 6 insurrection, as well as his handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home. In Georgia, he faces state-level charges related to allegedly trying to subvert 2020 election results.

Trump is nonetheless poised to land the Republican presidential nomination this summer after easily defeating his party rivals.

The first week of Trump’s trial was punctuated by some comedic moments and, at one point, tragic chaos. Over four days of jury selection, Trump had to listen to his fellow New Yorkers talk about why they could not be fair jurors in his trial.

Many jurors were dismissed immediately, but several others quit even after being selected, citing the pressure they felt from participating. On Monday, as soon as Merchan took the bench he informed the court that one juror was having cold feet. “My understanding [is] that the juror was concerned about the media attention and wasn’t 100% sure they wanted to be here today,” he said. After speaking in the robing room, the juror elected to stay in the trial.

On Friday afternoon, right as the six alternate jurors were chosen, a man set himself on fire across from the 100 Centre Street courthouse. The man, who succumbed to his injuries, left behind pamphlets and an online screed in which he outlined numerous conspiracy theories that seemed to have little specifically to do with Trump.


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