The Latest | Trump returns to court for opening statements in his historic hush money trial

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NEW YORK (AP) — Opening statements in Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial are set to begin Monday morning, setting the stage for weeks of unsavory and salacious testimony about the former president’s personal life and placing his legal troubles at the center of his closely contested campaign against President Joe Biden.

A panel of New Yorkers — 12 jurors and six alternates — was sworn in last Friday after four days of jury selection and will hear what is the first-ever criminal trial against a former U.S. commander-in-chief.

Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories that he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016.

At the heart of the allegations is a $130,000 payment made to porn actor Stormy Daniels by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump from surfacing in the final days of the race.

Prosecutors say Trump obscured the true nature of such payments in internal business documents. Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses. He has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

The hush money case is the first of Trump’s four indictments to reach trial.

Currently:

— Key players: Who’s who at Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial

— The hush money case is just one of Trump’s legal cases. See the others here

— Trump cancels rally because of weather, proving the difficulty of balancing a trial and campaign

— Trump was forced to listen silently as potential jurors offered their unvarnished assessments of him

— Live video of man who set himself on fire outside court proves challenging for news organizations

Here’s the latest:

JUROR WHO EXPRESSED RESERVATIONS ABOUT TRIAL WILL STAY ON

A juror who expressed reservations about continuing with Donald Trump’s hush money trial ahead of opening statements will remain on the jury, according to the judge.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said his understanding was “that the juror was concerned about the media attention” to the case and wasn’t “100% sure they wanted to be here today.”

The juror showed up to court Monday and was questioned in the judge’s robing room, out of the view of the press, he said.

TRUMP CASTS TRIAL AS ‘UNFAIR’

Before heading into the courtroom Monday morning, Donald Trump addressed a camera in the hallway, once again saying that it’s “unfair” he has to be there, rather than out campaigning.

He once again cast the trial as a “witch hunt” and a “shame” aimed at damaging his campaign.

“I’m here instead of being able to be in Pennsylvania and Georgia and lots of other places campaigning and it’s very unfair,” he said.

Trump also spoke at length about another hearing taking place at a nearby court, regarding the $175 million bond he paid in his civil fraud case.

Once in the courtroom, the former president filled his cheeks with air and exhaled before sitting down.

Photographers quickly crowded around him, snapping photos ahead of the proceedings.

The gallery was packed with reporters, and the temperature in the courtroom was slightly warmer than on previous days, where the chill was a subject of much discussion.

PROTESTERS, OTHERS GATHER OUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE

A small group of anti-Trump protesters was outside the courthouse ahead of opening statements in Donald Trump’s hush money criminal case, chanting, “No one is above the law,” while members of the media and public lined up to get inside.

Police had discussed the possibility of closing the park across the street, Collect Pond Park, after a man set himself on fire there last week, but on Monday it remained open to the public.

TRUMP RETURNS TO COURT

Donald Trump has arrived at court in Manhattan for opening statements in his hush money trial.

The former president left Trump Tower on Monday morning in his motorcade and walked straight inside the courthouse after arriving.

WHY ISN’T TRUMP’S TRIAL TELEVISED?

New York state law regarding media coverage of court proceedings is one of the most restrictive in the country.

Regulations limiting media coverage in courtrooms date back nearly a century, when the spectacle of bright flashbulbs and camera operators standing on witness tables during the 1935 trial of the man accused of kidnapping and killing Charles Lindbergh’s baby son horrified the legal community, according to a 2022 report by the New York-based Fund for Modern Courts.

Yet an interest in open government chipped away at these laws and — slowly, carefully — video cameras began to be permitted in courts across the country, often at the discretion of judges presiding in individual cases.

New York allowed them, too, on an experimental basis between 1987 and 1997, but they were shut down.

THE TIMING OF THIS CASE LENDS TO ITS SIGNIFICANCE

The allegations at the heart of this case don’t accuse Donald Trump of an egregious abuse of power like the federal case in Washington charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election, or of flouting national security protocols like the federal case in Florida charging him with hoarding classified documents.

But the New York prosecution has taken on added importance because it may be the only one of the four cases against Trump that reaches trial before the election.

Appeals and legal wrangling have delayed the other three cases.

HERE’S WHO COULD BE CALLED TO TESTIFY

MICHAEL COHEN — Donald Trump’s former lawyer and fixer. He was once a fierce Trump ally, but now he’s a key prosecution witness against his former boss. Cohen worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017. He later went to federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations relating to the hush money arrangements and other, unrelated crimes.

STORMY DANIELS — The porn actor who received a $130,000 payment from Cohen as part of his hush money efforts. Cohen paid Daniels to keep quiet about what she says was a sexual encounter with Trump years earlier. Trump denies having sex with Daniels.

KAREN MCDOUGAL — A former Playboy model who said she had a 10-month affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. She was paid $150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about the alleged relationship. Trump denies having sex with McDougal.

DAVID PECKER — The National Enquirer’s former publisher and a longtime Trump friend. Prosecutors say he met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower in August 2015 and agreed to help Trump’s campaign identify negative stories about him.

HOPE HICKS — Trump’s former White House communications director. Prosecutors say she spoke with Trump by phone during a frenzied effort to keep allegations of his marital infidelity out of the press after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape leaked weeks before the 2016 election. In the tape, from 2005, Trump boasted about grabbing women without permission.

JAIL TIME IS JUST ONE OF THE STAKES TRUMP FACES

Donald Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and could face four years in prison if convicted, though it’s not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to attempt to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Unfolding as Trump vies to reclaim the White House, the trial will require him to spend his days in a courtroom rather than the campaign trail. He will have to listen as witnesses recount salacious and potentially unflattering details about his private life.

Trump has nonetheless sought to turn his criminal defendant status into an asset for his campaign, fundraising off his legal jeopardy and repeatedly railing against a justice system that he has for years claimed is weaponized against him.

PROSECUTORS TO MAKE HISTORY WITH OPENING STATEMENTS

For the first time, prosecutors will present a criminal case against a former American president to a jury Monday as they accuse Donald Trump of a hush money scheme aimed at preventing damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public.

The statements are expected to give jurors and the voting public the clearest view yet of the allegations at the heart of the case, as well as insight into Trump’s expected defense.

Hearing the case is a jury that includes, among others, multiple lawyers, a sales professional, an investment banker and an English teacher.

The case will test jurors’ ability to set aside any bias but also Trump’s ability to abide by the court’s restrictions, such as a gag order that bars him from attacking witnesses. Prosecutors are seeking fines against him for alleged violations of that order.

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