Prosecutors allege Trump 'orchestrated a criminal scheme' as trial for ex-president begins

Donald Trump 'orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election' a prosecutor said as the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president got underway. The defence hinted at blaming Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, for any wrongdoing.

Prosecutor for Manhattan district attorney says Trump signed 11 falsified invoices to hide hush money

Trump’s hush-money trial underway in New York City

26 days ago
Duration 3:03
Former U.S. president Donald Trump’s hush-money trial began in earnest on Monday with opening statements and the first witness. Trump is accused of allegedly falsifying business records to cover up paying porn star Stormy Daniels to bury her story about their sexual encounter, which he denies.

Donald Trump "orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election" a prosecutor said in his opening statement in a New York courtroom as the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president got under way.

"This case is about conspiracy of fraud," prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told 12 jurors and six alternates. Colangelo said they would hear Trump working out the details of a scheme to pay and hide hush money payments in his own voice on recorded conversations.

Colangelo told jurors that Trump engaged in a "catch and kill" conspiracy with his former lawyer Michael Cohen and David Pecker, then the publisher of the National Enquirer, to cover up unflattering information about Trump and help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That included payments to women who said they had sexual encounters with Trump, including a $130,000 US payment to Stephanie Clifford, known as the porn performer Stormy Daniels, at a time when he was facing other revelations of sexual misbehaviour.

WATCH | 'Sleazy' hush payments aren't the alleged crime here, ex-prosecutor says:

Why Trump prosecution is focusing on campaign finance violation, election interference

1 month ago
Duration 1:09
Former federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno explains why hush money payments weren't illegal, but the way they were concealed may have been.

In the New York trial, Trump is charged by the Manhattan District Attorney with falsely recording his 2017 reimbursement of Cohen for the Daniels payment as a legal expense in his real estate company's books. Prosecutors say he did so to conceal the fact that Cohen's payment exceeded the $2,700 limit on individual campaign contributions at the time.

Nothing 'sinister': Trump lawyer

Colangelo said Trump disguised his reimbursements to Cohen as legal expenses through 11 falsified invoices, 12 falsified ledger entries, and 11 falsified cheques.

"Those were lies. There was no retainer agreement. Cohen was not being paid for legal services," Colangelo said. "The defendant falsified those business records because he wanted to conceal his and others' criminal conduct."

Lawyers for the Republican presidential candidate began their opening statement in what may be the only one of Trump's four criminal prosecutions to go to trial before an expected Nov. 5 election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Todd Blanche, Trump's lawyer, said the former president was "innocent" of all charges and "had nothing to do with the invoice." It is expected the defence will impugn the character of Cohen, who served a prison sentence not only for his involvement in the hush money scheme, but for tax offences that had nothing to do with Trump.

"There's nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It's called democracy. They put something sinister on this idea, as if it's a crime," Blanche said.

A Secret Service agent wearing an earpiece sat directly behind Trump as the opening statements began.

Pecker, 72, was the first witness called to the stand. He explained the basics of tabloid journalism and said his company often paid for stories. He did not discuss his interactions with Trump, as court was adjourned early for Passover.

Trump denies extramarital affairs

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsification of business records. He at first denied knowledge of the payment to Daniels from Cohen, but then later backtracked, saying it was meant to make a false allegation disappear.

A guilty verdict in the case would not bar Trump from taking office, but it could hurt his candidacy. Reuters/Ipsos polling shows half of independent voters and one in four Republicans say they would not vote for Trump if he is convicted of a crime.

WATCH | Ex-prosecutor says DA's case no slam dunk, could be vulnerable on appeal: 

Trump's defence has opportunities at trial — and on appeal, if necessary

1 month ago
Duration 0:48
Star witness Michael Cohen is problematic and prosecution's theory is unique, former federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno says

American Media, which published the National Enquirer, in 2018 admitted that it paid $150,000 to former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal for rights to her story about a months-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. American Media said it worked "in concert" with Trump's campaign, and it never published a story.

The tabloid reached a similar deal to pay $30,000 to a doorman who was seeking to sell a story about Trump allegedly fathering a child out of wedlock, which turned out to be false, according to prosecutors.

Trump has said the payments were personal and did not violate election law. He has denied having affairs with Daniels — who alleges a one-time encounter — as well as McDougal, who said she carried on a monthslong affair with Trump.

Before the trial began Monday, Trump called for supporters to protest peacefully at courthouses "all over the Country," but few were on hand to greet him when he arrived at the downtown courthouse.

"Lower Manhattan surrounding the Courthouse, where I am heading now, is completely CLOSED DOWN. SO UNFAIR!!!" he wrote on social media.

The trial could last six to eight weeks.

WATCH | Jury selection completed in days, not weeks as some predicted: 

12 jurors selected for Trump hush-money trial — after a few hiccups

30 days ago
Duration 2:16
After a few hiccups, 12 jurors and one alternate have been selected for Donald Trump's hush-money trial. The former U.S. president is lashing out, calling the trial 'unfair' even after he was accused of violating a gag order.

Gag order hearing Tuesday

Trump faces three other criminal indictments stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in those cases, and he portrays all of them as a broad-based effort by Biden's Democratic allies to undercut his campaign. All of the indictments were the result of investigations that began before he announced his intention to run for president again, in November 2022.

Trial dates have not been set in those cases, as the Supreme Court considers legal questions on the immunity of former presidents, as well as a federal obstruction law.

Justice Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the hush money trial, imposed a limited gag order on Trump after he criticized witnesses, prosecutors, the judge and the judge's daughter. Prosecutors are pressing Merchan to penalize Trump for violating that order, with a hearing to be held on the matter Tuesday.

With files from CBC News