Trump’s hush-money trial: key takeaways from opening statements

<span>Donald Trump in court in New York on 22 April 2024.</span><span>Photograph: Yuki Iwamura/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Donald Trump in court in New York on 22 April 2024.Photograph: Yuki Iwamura/UPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Donald Trump was confronted on Monday with the unsavory details of his alleged attempt to illegally influence the 2016 election by covering up his hush-money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, as the first criminal trial for a former US president got under way in New York.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records – where the hush-money payments were recorded as legal expenses – to cover up the affair just weeks before the election.

Here are the key takeaways from the start of the trial:

Prosecutors immediately focused on the 2016 election

The Manhattan district attorney’s office sketched out from the start of their opening statements that Trump committed one crime, the falsification of records, in the furtherance of a second crime, to violate campaign finance laws – which is what would elevate misdemeanor crimes into felonies.

The prosecutor, Matthew Colangelo, presented to the jury that Trump’s “catch-and-kill” scheme with the National Enquirer was entirely geared towards helping the Trump 2016 campaign.

Colangelo contended there were three parts to the alleged conspiracy: that the National Enquirer would run positive coverage, the National Enquirer would attack political opponents and that the National Enquirer would act as the eyes and ears for the campaign to detect and suppress negative stories.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and fraud. The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that conspiracy by lying in his New York business records, over and over and over again,” Colangelo said.

Trump appeared uncomfortable

During much of Colangelo’s opening statement, Trump appeared uncomfortable in his seat with his brow furrowed while the unsavory details of the alleged affair with Daniels and his boasts about grabbing women’s genitals in the infamous Access Hollywood tape were read out to the jury.

But part of the Access Hollywood tape that was read out verbatim – when Trump remarked he could grab women “by the pussy” – caused Trump to frown deeper and fidget in his seat. The next six weeks are expected to be a test for Trump to keep his composure.

Trump’s lawyer meandered

Todd Blanche, the lead Trump lawyer, tried to present several themes to the jury – but his arguments at times seemed to meld together and were hard to follow.

The point Blanche tried to stress was that Trump had nothing to do with the hush-money payments and how it was all arranged because Trump left it up to his former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen.

Blanche also suggested Trump did nothing wrong in trying to influence the 2016 election, in part because catch-and-kill schemes are not illegal. “Entering into a non-disclosure agreement is perfectly legal,” Blanche said.

But other parts of his opening statement seemed bizarre. Blanche tried to portray Trump as just a family man – which felt jarring against the affair allegations. And Blanche once added Trump “is a man” like him – oddly, with no follow-up statement.

Blanche also found some of his statements stricken after the judge sustained prosecutors’ objections, including on assertions that Cohen previously lied in court and that Trump did everything on the advice of counsel.