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The first trial against Trump is about to begin. Here’s how it will work

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The first trial against Trump is about to begin. Here’s how it will work

After months of build-up, later this morning, Donald Trump will become the first former president ever to be tried criminally. He faces 34 felony counts for allegedly falsifying company records related to hush money payments used to keep an alleged 2006 affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels out of the news during the 2016 election.

The Guardian already has in-depth reporting and analysis that will help you understand exactly what’s going on (keep scrolling down!), but we’ve received a lot of questions about the logistics of the process that we want to answer before things officially kick off to start. Here’s how things will work.

When will this happen?

The trial is expected to begin this morning with jury selection and will take place from 9:30 AM to approximately 4:30 PM EST on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (the judge has a separate commitment on Wednesday).

Will it be televised?

No. New York state law prohibits trials from being recorded or broadcast.

So how do we know what’s happening?

Victoria Bekiempis, a reporter with years of experience covering the New York courts, will be our eyes and ears in the courthouse. She will be in court for many days. There is also an overflow area where reporters can observe the proceedings while still being allowed to have their electronic devices with them, allowing us to bring you real-time coverage. The Guardian’s live blog will keep you informed all day long.

How long will the trial last?

This is a bit of a moving target, but we expect jury selection to take at least a week. Then the process really begins. Chairman judge, Juan Merchan, has predicted it will take about six weeks.

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Could Trump go to jail? For how long?

It depends on how the trial and sentencing go. Each of the 34 charges carries a prison sentence of up to four years.

Why is this Trump’s first criminal trial?

Trump’s legal team successfully postponed his three other pending criminal cases. Prosecutors had indicated they would delay this trial if a larger trial had to take place first. But when the US Supreme Court intervened and postponed his election subversion trial in Washington DC, it created an opening in the calendar for this trial to take place.

Who is involved?

The guards Sam Levine has a complete overview of all key players involved. Here are just a few:

Donald Trump, Defendant

The Republican candidate for president is the defendant in the case. Prosecutors allege he orchestrated a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election when she threatened to go public with allegations of an affair, then conspired with others to cover up the payment.

Stormy Daniels, key witness

Daniels, an adult film star whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she met Trump in 2006 at a celebrity golf tournament. Daniels was 27 at the time and Trump was 60 and Daniels has always said the sex was consensual.

Just before the 2016 election, Daniels said she was approached by Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer at the time, and offered $130,000 not to make the alleged affair public. She accepted the money. “The story came out again. I was worried about my family and their safety,” Daniels told 60 Minutes in 2018.

After the Wall Street Journal broke the story of the payment, Daniels sued Trump to release her from the non-disclosure agreement. She said it was null and void because it wasn’t signed by Trump.

Michael Cohen, key witness

Cohen was once a lawyer for Trump and one of the former president’s most loyal lieutenants and enforcers. He facilitated the payment to Daniels and funneled the $130,000 to her through a shell company called Essential Consultants LLC. Trump later arranged to pay him back in monthly installments of $35,000. Trump is said to have worked with Cohen and Trump officials to conceal the purpose of these payments in business documents.

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Earlier in 2016, Cohen facilitated a similar payment to another woman, Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who also claimed to have had an affair with Trump. In the McDougal case, Cohen arranged for McDougal to receive $150,000 from the National Enquirer.

Cohen initially said he paid for the settlement with his own money. “Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign … reimbursed me for the payment,” he said in 2018. “What I did defensively for my personal client, and my friend, is what lawyers do for their high-profile clients. I would have done it in 2006. I would have done it in 2011. I really care about him and the family – more than just as an employee and attorney.”

But in 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to a series of federal crimes, including campaign finance charges. During a plea hearing, Cohen admitted that he facilitated the payments to the women at Trump’s direction. He served a three-year prison sentence, most of which he spent under house arrest. He was also suspended in New York in 2019 after pleading guilty to lying to Congress.

What else you need to read to understand what’s going on:

American Guardian reporter Lauren Aratani has a great timeline of the case, detailing all the key events that brought us to this trial.

Aratani also explains how and why prosecutors are pursuing this case. While the story surrounding the allegations is quite salacious (it’s literally tabloid fodder), like the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said when he announced the charges against Trump last year, the charges themselves are fairly straightforward, calling them the “bread and butter of our white-collar work.”

Levine looks closely at prosecutors’ strategy and whether the public cares that the former president is on trial. Here’s an excerpt:

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As the criminal cases against Donald Trump piled up last year, you could be forgiven for not paying much attention to the New York case in which he was charged with 34 felonies for falsifying business records.

The episode was a bombshell when the Wall Street Journal first reported it in January 2018. Trump paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 on the eve of the 2016 election to keep quiet about an affair. He funneled the payment through his attorney, Michael Cohen, and then lied in his business records about the purpose of the payment. By the time the case was filed last year, it had largely disappeared into the public psyche — buried beneath Trump’s attempts to steal the 2020 election and an avalanche of other lies.

Now this once sleepy case will mark the first time a former president has gone to trial on criminal charges. It’s an uncomfortable incongruity — the case of what appears to be the more benign crimes takes on outsized importance by going first — and a dynamic that has been shaped entirely by Trump, who has used a series of legal maneuvers to kill the other three criminals to stop. cases against him.

As with all trials against Trump, there will be a case in court and in the court of public opinion. And first-term District Attorney Alvin Bragg will have to clear both hurdles by not just presenting a cut-and-dried case about falsifying corporate documents, but reminding the American public who the real victims are: them.

“The prosecutor will want to detail a precise case of ‘these are the documents, it was forged, he knew it and he intended’ and in some ways will try to simplify and streamline this case. the jury,” said Cheryl Bader, a professor at Fordham Law School who specializes in criminal law. “On the other hand, they also want to show why this is important as a matter of electoral democracy and electing the highest official in the country.”

Do you have questions about the trials against Trump? Please send them our way: trumpontrial@theguardian.com

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