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Trump makes history with a criminal case against hush money in New York

By Luc Cohen and Jack Queen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump will become the first former president to face a criminal trial Monday when jury selection begins in Manhattan in a case involving hush money payments to a porn star Stormy Danielswith the US elections looming in less than seven months as he pursues a return to the White House.

Trump, 77, has three other criminal cases bogged down by legal wrangling that may not happen before the election in which he is the Republican candidate challenging the Democratic Party. President Joe Biden. Two of the other cases relate to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and one concerns the retention of classified documents after he left office in 2021.

He is accused of falsifying records to cover up a $130,000 payment he had his then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen make to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign to cover her silence about a sexual encounter in 2006 to buy. with him at a hotel in Lake Tahoe.

Trump has denied such a relationship. He pleaded not guilty last year to 34 counts of falsifying company records in the case brought in New York state court by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat. A conviction would not prevent Trump from running for office or coming to power.

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He has portrayed any criminal cases against him as designed to harm him politically — even as he warns he would try to turn the Justice Department against political opponents, including Biden, if he regains the presidency.

Some legal experts have said the case, with its focus on an extramarital affair, lacks the seriousness of Trump’s other charges.

“There’s going to be an argument from the defense that this is a politically motivated prosecution, and if they had committed a real crime, they would have committed a real crime, and instead they have little notes on a checkbook,” says Adam Kaufmann , a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Bragg has argued that the case centers on an unlawful scheme to corrupt the 2016 election by burying an outrageous story that would have damaged Trump’s campaign. Trump’s lawyers have said the payment to Daniels did not constitute an illegal campaign contribution.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week found that nearly two in three voters considered the allegations in the case at least somewhat serious. One in four Republicans and half of independents said they would not vote for Trump if he were convicted of a crime.

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Picking a jury from a group of people from heavily Democratic Manhattan could take several days, followed by opening statements and testimony in the trial led by Judge Juan Merchan.

Daniels and Cohen are among the witnesses expected to testify. Trump has said he plans to testify in his own defense, a risky proposition that would open him up to in-depth cross-examination by prosecutors.

‘CATCH AND KILL’

Prosecutors have said the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was part of a broader “catch and kill” scheme to reward people with potentially negative information about Trump so they could keep quiet before the election in which Trump Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated.

Trump is accused of falsely recording refunds to Cohen as monthly statutory retainers on the books of his New York-based real estate company. Falsifying corporate records is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison in New York, although many defendants convicted of the charge have been sentenced to fines or probation.

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Trump’s defense has argued that Trump’s payments to Cohen in 2017, while he was president, were for legal services. Trump has called Cohen a “serial liar” and his lawyers are expected to attack his credibility at trial. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating campaign finance law and testified that Trump ordered him to pay off Daniels. The federal prosecutors who brought the case have not charged Trump.

Trump will have to attend the trial unless he requests an exemption. While that could limit Trump’s ability to travel to the six closely divided swing states expected to decide the outcome of the election, he has used his legal troubles to rally his supporters. His daily court appearances could become the equivalent of campaign stops.

Trump’s lawyers filed three last-minute bids last week to delay the trial. They were all rejected by the judges.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Jack Queen in New York; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Will Dunham)

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