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What to watch in Trump’s hush money trial

By Kara Scannell, Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle, Julian Cummings and Laura Dolan, CNN

(CNN) — Former President Donald Trump’s New York criminal hush money trial, set to begin Monday, brings with it a long list of charges, witnesses, potential penalties, appeals and attorneys.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Case overview

The charges stem from reimbursements made to Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for hush money payments he made before the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels to stop her from speaking publicly about her alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. The former president has pleaded not guilty and denied the affair with Daniels.

While it’s known as the “hush money” trial, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has said this case is about election interference, alleging the $130,000 payment was part of a wider scheme enacted by Trump and his allies from 2015 to 2017 to keep damaging information from voters.

Prosecutors allege that once the “Access Hollywood” tape – wherein Trump speaks graphically about his proclivity to grope women – became public, the campaign was scrambling to quash Daniels’ allegation out of concern of how it would play with female voters. Prosecutors will have to prove that Trump is guilty of falsifying business records with the intent to hide that $130,000 payment.

Trump is required to attend the trial unless he receives a waiver from Judge Juan Merchan.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office officially launched its investigation into the alleged hush money schemes under the previous DA, Cy Vance, in August 2018, the same month Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the Daniels payments. Under Vance, prosecutors shifted their investigation to focus on the Trump Organization’s finances and away from the repayment scheme.

Bragg, who took office in January 2022, has accused Trump of leaning on his political power to avoid criminal responsibility for years and campaigned on a promise to prosecute the former president. A grand jury was eventually green-lit to hear the hush money case in December 2022, leading to the historic indictment of the former president just over a year ago.

What exactly is Trump accused of doing?

Cohen said he paid Daniels at Trump’s request shortly before the 2016 election to keep her quiet. Cohen paid Daniels the $130,000 through a shell corporation he set up and funded at a Manhattan bank. Cohen plead guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance laws and implicated Trump directly in the scheme.

The falsified business records include invoices created by Cohen, entries for the payments recorded on Trump books, and checks that were mostly signed by Trump to Cohen. Prosecutors allege they falsely say the payments were for legal expenses pursuant to a retainer agreement, but prosecutors allege there never was a retainer agreement.

The charges

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, all related to the cover-up of hush money payments to Daniels.

Each count represents a separate instance of the alleged misconduct, pointing to different business records associated with a series of repayments to Cohen (ledger entries, checks, stubs, invoices, etc.) that were allegedly falsified to conceal his criminal conduct.

The potential penalties

The maximum penalty for each count is four years in state prison, but the judge has discretion over how long any sentence should be and whether to allow any sentences to be served consecutively. He could also sentence Trump to probation.

New York caps sentencing for this type of felony at 20 years. A president has no authority to pardon state crimes.

Trial timeline

Jury selection is expected to take one to two weeks, with the entire trial expected to last six to eight weeks.

Pending appeals

Trump’s attorneys went to a New York appeals court three times this past week to try to pause the trial while the court heard challenges on several issues. All of the requests for stays were swiftly rejected, though Trump’s lawyers will still be able to continue to litigate their appeals on several issues – including the gag order and recusing the judge – even if the trial is not paused.

Gag order

Earlier this month, Merchan expanded his gag order, banning Trump from attacking witnesses and jurors, to include family members of the court and family members of the Manhattan district attorney.

Merchan warned that Trump’s rhetoric threatens to instill fear in those who might be involved in the proceedings for their loved ones. Trump is still allowed to comment on Bragg and Merchan, who he has since accused of taking away his First Amendment rights.

An appeal on the gag order is still pending.

Jury selection

Court officials expect that about 100 new prospective jurors from Manhattan at a time will be brought into Merchan’s downtown Manhattan courtroom to be vetted to ultimately sit on a 12-person jury with six alternates.

The potential jurors will be asked to fill out a questionnaire giving information on where in the city they live, where they get their news, their feelings about the former president, whether they’ve ever attended a rally for the former president or had any affiliations with groups like the Proud Boys or with the QAnon movement.

Notably, they won’t be asked what political party they belong to or how they’ve voted in the past. Merchan said he will not ask jurors their thoughts on the 2020 election outcome.

But the judge plans to ask whether anyone feels they could not be fair or impartial or otherwise serve in the case and then excuse those who raise their hands without inquiring further.

In a letter Friday afternoon, Trump’s attorneys said that approach is “inadequate because the plan would not create a sufficient record for the purpose of any necessary appellate review, or a venue-change motion.” Instead, they asked the judge to distinguish between jurors who said they can’t be fair and those who are otherwise unable to serve.

The jury will remain anonymous to the public to avoid “exposing them to an atmosphere of intimidation” and Merchan warned Trump in a gag order that he can’t make public comments or direct anyone else to make public comments about jurors involved in the proceedings.


Other witnesses will include bankers and Trump Organization officials who handled the payments, lawyers involved in the transaction, as well as other people who worked on Trump’s campaign, the people said.

Cohen, Daniels, Trump’s longtime friend and former chief executive of American Media David Pecker, and Trump’s former campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks are among the high-profile witnesses who are expected to be called by prosecutors, according to people familiar with the case.


Manhattan prosecutors
– Alvin Bragg

– Matthew Colangelo

– Christopher Conroy

– Joshua Steinglass

– Susan Hoffinger

– Becky Mangold

Trump criminal attorneys

– Todd Blanche

– Emil Bove

– Susan Necheles

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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