Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Trump's First of 4 Criminal Trials Gets Underway

Matthew T. Mangino
April 15, 2024

As you are reading this, Judge Juan M. Merchan's Manhattan courtroom should be bustling with activity as an unprecedented criminal trial gets underway.

For the first time in American history, a former president of the United States is sitting as a defendant in a criminal trial. Not to mention this defendant is currently leading in the polls to be elected president for a second time, in 2024.

The facts are straightforward. Donald Trump was running for president in 2016. As Election Day loomed, Trump sought to silence a former porn star, Stormy Daniels, from publicly revealing their affair.

An alleged scheme was hatched to have Trump's "fixer," attorney Michael Cohen, pay Daniels $130,000 in hush money and then be reimbursed through phantom legal fees.

As a result, Trump now faces 34 felony charges of falsifying records brought by Alvin Bragg, Manhattan's first Black district attorney. Falsifying records is actually a misdemeanor in New York, but Bragg has alleged the conduct is a felony when falsifying business records for the purpose of concealing or committing another crime.

The district attorney alleges Trump falsified the records to conceal the affair in order to win a national election.

Trump's trial, like all criminal trials before a jury, will begin with jury selection. The jury selection process, known as "voir dire," is crucial, especially in an extremely high-profile case where nearly every person in the pool of potential jurors has an opinion about the defendant.

Each of the potential jurors summoned to the Manhattan Courthouse will have completed a juror questionnaire. Those questionnaires will be closely scrutinized. Lawyers for both sides will know the jurors' names. They will know their education level, marital status, line of employment and their thoughts on police, investigators and the court system. The lawyers will also scour potential jurors' social media accounts, as well as their voter registration and voting histories.

The selection process will be a bit different in this case. With our polarized political process, voter registration will be a legitimate point of inquiry. Whether you voted in the last two presidential elections may be appropriate as well.

The requirement to sit as a juror in a given case is whether one can be fair and impartial. It doesn't matter if a potential juror has heard of the case, or the other criminal cases pending against Trump with the special federal prosecutor or the state of Georgia. The question is simply whether a potential juror can set aside what they read, heard or discussed with others and be fair and impartial.

According to The New York Times, it appears that the potential juror pool may not be favorable to Trump. Seventy percent of Manhattan's 1.1 million registered voters are Democrats. He lost overwhelmingly in his hometown in 2016 and 2020. Juries and judges in Manhattan have already found Trump liable for committing sexual abuse and defamation, to the tune of $83 million, and for fraudulently inflating his assets to obtain financing, making him liable for an additional $453 million.

Jury selection is expected to last one to two weeks. Starting Monday, prosecutors and lawyers for Trump will seek to reduce potentially hundreds of people to 12 jurors and six alternates.

Once a jury is empaneled, the sparks will begin to fly. The State of New York intends to call Cohen. He will testify that Trump directed him to make the payment to Daniels. She is also expected to be a key witness.

Trump's lawyers are likely to go after Cohen on the witness stand by, as NBC News suggested, "painting him as a liar who loathes the former president and whose testimony shouldn't be believed."

Daniels' former attorney Keith Davidson is likely to testify about his negotiations over the hush money payment. However, a more formidable witness for the prosecution may be former White House communications director Hope Hicks — who prosecutors have said was involved in phone calls between Trump and Cohen and may corroborate the testimony of Cohen.

The excitement over the trial may be tempered a bit by the fact that it will not be televised — New York law does not permit cameras in the courtroom.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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