Helena Lyng Blak
5 weeks ago

Trump ‘Hush Money’ Trial: Opening Statements

A rundown of the opening statements of the first criminal trial against the former US president.
Former President Donald Trump addressed media before 2nd day of testimony of Michael Cohen of civil fraud trial at New York State Court on October 25, 2023. Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock.com
Former President Donald Trump addressed media before 2nd day of testimony of Michael Cohen of civil fraud trial at New York State Court on October 25, 2023. Photo: lev radin / Shutterstock.com

Today, Monday, April 22, 2024, the prosecution and the defense both got a chance to set the stage for former President Donald Trump’s first criminal trial, as they presented their opening statements.

The trial, the first criminal case against a former United States president, began last week with jury selection. Today, the 12 chosen jurors and their six alternates were presented with each side’s view of what the evidence of the case will establish.

The Charges 

The prosecution alleges that during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump, via his attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels to prevent her from disclosing a purported affair. This type of payment is commonly known as ‘hush money’.

Trump faces charges of manipulating business records to mask the reimbursements made to Cohen and implementing an unlawful scheme to influence the 2016 election’s outcome. He is charged with 34 counts in total: 11 related to fake invoices, 11 related to checks and 12 related to accounting records.

The Prosecution

"This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up," prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told jurors at the very beginning of his opening statement according to CNN, further asserting that, “The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again.”

Colangelo then went on to lay out the timeline of the case, tracing its beginnings back to a 2015 meeting between Trump, Cohen, and David Pecker, whom the prosecution calls a ‘co-conspirator’, former CEO of American Media, wherein the three allegedly planned the scheme to suppress negative stories in the media about Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

This scheme, the prosecution claimed, included paying the infamous ‘hush money’ to Daniels through Cohen.

The prosecutor further stated that the jury will hear a recorded phone call between Cohen and Trump concerning payments made to model Karen McDougal, who also allegedly had an affair with Trump.

The prosecutor argued that the ‘Access Hollywood’ tapes (the infamous “Grab them by the pussy” tapes), flung Trump’s campaign into “damage control mode”. So when the campaign caught wind of Daniels wanting to go public with her affair, Cohen–at Trump’s direction–bought Daniels’ story to prevent it from going public before the election.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple,” said Colangelo to the jury as per CNN.

According to the prosecution, Trump reimbursed Cohen more than double what Cohen had paid Daniels in order to obscure the fact that it was a reimbursement, and not a payment of legal services provided by Cohen.

Addressing the topic of the prosecution’s star witness Cohen, Colangelo said, “During this trial, you will hear a lot about Michael Cohen … I suspect the defense will go to great lengths to get you to reject his testimony, precisely because it is so damning."

Wrapping up his opening statement, the prosecutor declared his confidence in the jury finding Donald Trump guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

The Defense 

“President Trump is innocent,” began Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche, “President Trump did not commit any crimes.”

According to AP News, the defense went on to call the former president “larger than life”, and yet an everyday person, man, husband, and father.

The defense declared it would not be referring to Trump as ‘the defendant’, which the prosecution did, but rather as ‘President Trump’, “out of respect for the office that he held.”

Blanche denied that Trump had anything to do with the ‘hush money’ payments, pointing to the fact that Trump paid Cohen more than double what Cohen had paid Daniels, and saying, "The 34 counts, ladies and gentlemen, are really just pieces of paper.”

The defense, then, went on to question if attempting to influence a presidential election would even be illegal, saying,  “I have a spoiler alert: There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy.”

The defense further went on to say that although Daniels did indeed sign a non-disclosure agreement, those are not illegal.

Blanche, like Colangelo, acknowledged that the jury will hear a lot about Cohen, while also pointing out that Cohen was not given a job in Trump’s administration after the 2016 election, despite allegedly wanting one. Blanche then claimed that Cohen is “obsessed” with Trump and untrustworthy.

Going back to Daniels, Blanche further argued she has “no idea” about the business records central to the case.

Before wrapping up his opening statement, the defense urged the jury to listen to Pecker’s testimony once given, to use their “common sense”, and put aside “whatever views” they have of Trump.

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