Prosecution lays out ‘criminal conspiracy’ in historic Trump trial

Prosecution lays out ‘criminal conspiracy’ in historic Trump trial
Prosecution lays out ‘criminal conspiracy’ in historic Trump trial

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former US president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the press during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York April 22, 2024. — Picture by Victor J. Blue / POOL via AFP

NEW YORK, April 23 — Donald Trump engaged in “election fraud” by paying hush money to a porn star just days before the 2016 White House vote, prosecutors said yesterday at the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up,” Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo said. “He orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election.”

Laying out the prosecution’s case for the jury, Colangelo said Trump falsified business records to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels over a 2006 sexual encounter that could have impacted his presidential bid.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple,” he said.

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Trump, 77, dressed in a dark blue suit and blue tie with an American flag pin on his lapel, sat at the defence table flanked by his lawyers, staring straight ahead as the prosecutor delivered his opening remarks.

The case poses substantial risks to the Republican presidential candidate, coming less than seven months before his November election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Prosecution witnesses are expected to include Daniels and Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen, who arranged the alleged payment to the adult film actress.

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“President Trump did not commit any crimes,” Todd Blanche, one of his attorneys, said in his opening statement. “The Manhattan DA should never have brought this case.

“I have a spoiler alert: there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election,” Blanche said. “It’s called democracy.”

David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, was the first witness called by prosecutors, who allege he was used to bury negative stories about Trump, a policy known as “catch and kill.”

Pecker was only briefly on the stand before court was adjourned for the day by Judge Juan Merchan. It will resume today.

Campaign trail

Trump, speaking to reporters in a hallway after the court session, again insisted he had done nothing wrong and claimed the case was brought to derail his 2024 White House bid.

“This is a Biden witch hunt to keep me off the campaign trail,” he said.

The trial will keep Trump in court for four days a week over a possibly six-to-eight-week period.

He faces 34 counts of falsifying business records for reimbursements made to Cohen, his lawyer, for the US$130,000 “hush money” payment to Daniels.

Blanche, Trump’s attorney, attacked the credibility of Cohen, who served prison time for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, and Daniels in his opening remarks.

“He’s a convicted felon,” Blanche said of Cohen. “And he also is a convicted perjurer.”

Daniels “saw her chance to make a lot of money, US$130,000, and it worked,” he said. “And since this story came out in 2018, became public, she’s made hundreds of thousands of dollars because of it.”

Trump has separately been indicted on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by Biden and for hoarding secret documents after leaving the White House.

Those cases have been repeatedly delayed, however, due to his strategy of challenging every legal step.

Merchan, on the other hand, has run the New York trial on a tight schedule.

Trump has railed against the case, particularly a partial gag order imposed by Merchan to prevent him from publicly attacking witnesses, prosecutors and relatives of court staff.

A hearing will be held today at which Merchan will decide if Trump is already in contempt of court due to outbursts during jury selection.

The identities of the jurors are being kept secret for their own protection.

The jury was seated last week after being questioned by prosecutors and defence attorneys about their media habits, political donations and education.

Many potential panelists were excused after saying they could not be impartial, before lawyers and the judge whittled the panel down to 12 jurors with six alternates.

A unanimous verdict will be required to convict Trump, who has been ordered to attend each day of the trial.

Security was tight yesterday after a man set himself on fire last week outside the courthouse in an unrelated but gruesome incident. — AFP

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