Donald Trump arrives for hush money trial in New York

Donald Trump is making history once again as the first American president to ever stand trial on criminal charges.

The former president has been charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in a bid to conceal a hush money payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, in order to silence her over an alleged affair in 2006.

The charges on their own are misdemeanours but have been elevated to felonies because Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg says they were carried out to facilitate another crime – violating state or federal election laws.

Mr Trump denies both the affair and has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Before jury selection gets underway, Judge Juan Merchan has denied a recusal motion and both sides are now debating what evidence can be admitted. A transcript of the Access Hollywood tape will be admitted, as will testimony from ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal but not in the context of Melania Trump’s pregnancy.

Earlier on Monday morning, Mr Trump instantly unleashed a series of rants on Truth Social blasting “the Biden Manhattan Witch Hunt Case” and claiming he wants “my VOICE back”.

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Florida classified documents case: Potential blow for Trump as lawyer-turned-witness leaves legal team

A long-time attorney for Trump who is expected to be a key witness in a criminal case targeting the former president’s possession of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago has reportedly left his legal team.

Evan Corcoran, who recused himself from the Florida case last year, is no longer representing the former president in any of his criminal and civil cases, according to CNN.

Corcoran quickly found himself at the centre of the classified documents case after he was hired to represent the former president, who faces a 40-count indictment alleging violations of the Espionage Act, obstruction, and the illegal removal of federal records after he left the White House.

His prolific notes and voice recordings that reportedly detail his exchanges with Trump have become central to special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecution, revealing how the former president allegedly misled his then-attorney about his mishandling of sensitive documents and attempts to evade a subpoena.

Alex Woodward brings us this one.

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 17:00

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First courtroom sketches show historic trial

In this courthouse sketch drawn from a divided video monitor, former President Donald Trump, lower right frame, center, confers with defense attorney Todd Blanche as Judge Juan Merchan, upper left, and prosecutor Joshua Steingless, lower left, look on (AP)
Former President Donald Trump sits with his attorney Todd Blanche before Justice Juan Merchan (REUTERS)

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 16:57

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Prosecutors seek clarification about what can be said about Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea

The Independent’s Alex Woodward reports from court:

Prosecutors want clarification about what they can say about Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to campaign finance violations. Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said the defence doesn’t intend to open the door to that plea during cross-examination.

Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations as well as tax evasion and making false statements in 2018, including an admission that he received “$280,000 in payments to be made to silence two women who otherwise planned to speak publicly about their alleged affairs with a presidential candidate, thereby intending to influence the 2016 presidential election,” according to federal prosecutors at the time.

Blanche said the defence has no intention of raising the campaign finance violations when they bring up charges against him.

“I’m not sure how you can pick and choose,” Judge Merchan replied.

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 16:50

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Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 16:40

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Court is taking a 15-minute break.

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 16:20

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Prosecutors ask to admit communications about Michael Cohen

The Independent’s Alex Woodward reports from court:

Prosecutors now asking to admit tweets and “back-door” communications showing Trump trying to keep Cohen close and dissuade him from cooperating with law enforcement.

“The truth is Michael Cohen stayed loyal as long as he did because of the defendant’s pressure campaign,” Steinglass said.

Steinglass also points to Truth Social posts from around the time of grand jury presentation in this case in early 2023, including a post on March 15 2022:

“I did nothing wrong in the horse face case,” Trump said at the time. “She knows nothing about me other than her conman lawyer, Avenatti, and convicted liar and felon, jailbird Michael Cohen, may have schemed up.”

Trump was using his platform “to influence the work of the grand jury,” Steinglass said.

The trial jury should be able to consider “his very public statements” seen “as attempts to intimidate witnesses to stay quiet,” he added. “This effort continues to this very day.”

Steinglass mentions a forthcoming motion to show why Trump shouldn’t be held in contempt for his statements about the trial.

Steinglass argued Trump’s ongoing comments about trial witnesses are a “blatant violation of the court order about extrajudicial statements,” the gag order in the case.

He pointed to one from last week that thanked Michael Avenatti for revealing the “truth” about “two sleaze bags,” followed by another post referring to Cohen and Daniels.

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 16:11

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The judge denies prosecutors’ attempt to bring in unrelated sexual assault allegations against Trump.

Steinglass showed several statements from Trump and comments at his campaign rallies in 2016 that he argued “powerfully demonstrate the extent to which Trump was preoccupied” with those allegations before Election Day.

“His comments make little sense taken out of context” and are “clearly referring to allegations of sexual assault,” he added. “This concern over losing female voters was the catalyst … to lock down the Stormy Daniels story.”

The judge says the statements are all admissible but the allegations themselves are not.

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 16:02

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Judge to allow discussion of Access Hollywood tape

Here’s the latest from The Independent’s Alex Woodward: at the courthouse:

Judge Merchan allows discussion of what is said on the tape – but reiterates that jurors cannot see the actual tape.

He also does not allow the transcript from Trump’s deposition in the E Jean Carroll case about the tape, arguing that all that the transcript shows is that Trump admits to saying that.

“My ruling that we were not to play the tape was and remains that the tape itself is so prejudicial, to see Mr Trump depicted, the words coming out of his mouth, his facial expressions, the hand gestures,” he said.

An email thread about the comments on the tape, however, “demonstrates and bolsters the People’s claim that this was a … critical event, and there was a response within the campaign,” Judge Merchan said.

“The people are not limited to the choice of words that are used in describing the tape,” he added, saying that prosecutors can “bring out what was said” on the tape but not use his own voice to show it.

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 15:55

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Prosecutor asks to admit transcripts of Access Hollywood tape

Prosecutors are asking to admit transcripts that describe what exactly was said in the Access Hollywood tape, which the judge has previously denied showing jurors.

Steinglass said that “excluding the actual words used” and hearing what that tape was about and why it had such a “dramatic impact on the campaign” is misleading to jurors.

He read part of the transcript: “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p****. You can do anything.”

He also mentioned that Trump himself called his remarks “locker room talk,” but if jurors can’t read or hear what was said, they won’t know what he was actually responding to, Steinglass argues.

Here’s some background on the infamous tape and its relevance to the trial:

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 15:51

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Need to catch up on who’s who?

Want to know more about the key players in the case, including Karen McDougal?

Check out Ariana Baio’s guide to who’s who in the hush money trial:

Key players in Trump’s hush money trial

From a porn star and a Playboy model to a supermarket tabloid publisher – by way of a lawyer-turned-felon – the cast of characters in the first-ever criminal trial of a former president could hardly be more colourful. Ariana Baio reports

Oliver O’Connell15 April 2024 15:47

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