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Trump’s hush money trial begins

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New York, April 15: Donald Trump arrived Monday at a New York court for the start of jury selection in his hush money trial, marking a singular moment in US history.
It’s the first criminal trial of any former US commander-in-chief and the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial. Because he is also the presumptive nominee for this year’s Republican ticket, the trial will produce the head-spinning split-screen of a presidential candidate spending his days in court and, he has said, “campaigning during the night.” There could be some legal arguments and housekeeping before jury selection begins. When it does, scores of people are due to be called into the courtroom to start the process of finding 12 jurors, plus six alternates.
Judge Juan M. Merchan has written that the key is “whether the prospective juror can assure us that they will set aside any personal feelings or biases and render a decision that is based on the evidence and the law.” Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
Prosecutors say he was trying to conceal an alleged effort to keep salacious – and, he says, bogus – stories about his sex life from emerging during his 2016 campaign.
The charges centre on USD 130,000 in payments that Trump’s company made to his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen. He had paid that sum on Trump’s behalf to keep porn actor Stormy Daniels from going public, a month before the election, with her claims of a sexual encounter with the married mogul a decade earlier.
Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen were falsely logged as legal fees in order to cloak their actual purpose. Trump’s lawyers say the disbursements indeed were legal expenses, not a cover-up. Trump himself casts the case, and his other indictments elsewhere, as a broad “weaponisation of law enforcement” by Democratic prosecutors and officials. He maintains they are orchestrating sham charges in hopes of impeding his presidential run.
After decades of fielding and initiating lawsuits, the businessman-turned-politician now faces a trial that could result in up to four years in prison if he’s convicted, though a no-jail sentence also would be possible.
Regardless of the eventual outcome, the trial of an ex-president and current candidate is a moment of extraordinary gravity for the American political system, as well as for Trump himself. Such a scenario would have once seemed unthinkable to many Americans, even for a president whose tenure left a trail of shattered norms, including twice being impeached and acquitted by the Senate.
The scene inside the courtroom may be greeted with a spectacle outside. When Trump was arraigned last year, police broke up small skirmishes between his supporters and protesters near the courthouse in a tiny park, where a local Republican group has planned a pro-Trump rally Monday.
Trump’s attorneys lost a bid to get the hush money case dismissed and have since repeatedly sought to delay it, prompting a flurry of last-minute appeals court hearings last week. Among other things, Trump’s lawyers maintain that the jury pool in overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan has been tainted by negative publicity about Trump and that the case should be moved elsewhere. (AP)

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