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Trump conspired to ‘corrupt the 2016 election,’ DA says in hush money trial

In Business
April 22, 2024

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump looks on as his criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York City on April 22, 2024.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

This is developing news. Check back for updates.

Prosecutors on Monday began delivering opening statements in the New York hush money trial of Donald Trump.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy” by Trump to “corrupt the 2016 election,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the jury in Manhattan Supreme Court.

“Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” he said.

“We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter, if this conspiracy was a difference maker in the close election,” Colangelo told the jury. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

After both parties complete their opening statements, prosecutors are expected to call David Pecker, the former CEO of National Enquirer publisher American Media, as their first witness, NBC News reported.

Pecker was deeply involved in alleged efforts ahead of the 2016 presidential election to “catch and kill” negative information about Trump, the Republican nominee in that contest.

Pecker allegedly warned Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen in late 2016 about porn star Stormy Daniels’ claim that she had sex with Trump years earlier while he was married. Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels less than two weeks before the election, which Trump went on to win.

Former U.S. president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court to attend his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs in New York, on April 22, 2024. 

Angela Weiss | Via Reuters

American Media earlier in 2016 also allegedly paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also says she had an extramarital affair with Trump.

Colangelo described how Trump, Cohen and Pecker first conspired to influence the election during a summer 2015 meeting at Trump Tower. There, Pecker agreed to act as the “eyes and ears” for Trump by flagging potentially harmful information to Cohen.

“Cohen’s job really was to take care of problems for the defendant,” Colangelo told the jury. “He was Trump’s fixer.”

To carry out the scheme, Colangelo said, Trump and others used a practice known as “catch and kill”: The publication would pay for the exclusive rights to a story,  and then never publish it, thereby catching and killing it.

Not only would they bury negative stories, they also agreed to publish flattering stories about Trump and spread negative news about his opponents. Colangelo described this as a three-part conspiracy between Trump and Pecker, and executed by Cohen and then-National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard, to influence the election outcome.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in order to conceal his reimbursement to Cohen for paying off Daniels. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accuses Trump of doing so to influence the 2016 election.

Trump will not take the stand Monday, though he has repeatedly said he will testify in the trial. If he does, Judge Juan Merchan ruled, prosecutors will be able challenge his credibility by asking him about a range of court decisions that are not directly linked to the hush money case.

That means the jury can hear the DA cross-examine Trump about being held liable in February for fraudulently inflating his asset values on financial records; catching multiple fines for violating a gag order twice during that civil business fraud trial; and being found liable for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll in two other federal civil trials.

As Merchan delivered that ruling and hashed out other matters before opening statements began, Trump appeared to be struggling to stay awake. He was slumping slightly in his chair and periodically sat with his eyes closed, NBC reported.

Trump in a post Monday morning on Truth Social defended the payments to Cohen that are at the heart of the case.

Bragg “says that the payment of money to a lawyer, for legal services rendered, should not be referred to in a Ledger as LEGAL EXPENSE,” Trump wrote. “What other term would be more appropriate???”

Read more about Trump’s hush money trial

Trump in that post also complained that he is unable to campaign for president this week because he is required to attend his trial, which is expected to last around six weeks.

“It is also the perfect Crooked Joe Biden NARRATIVE – To be STUCK in a courtroom, and not be allowed to campaign for President of the United States!” he posted.

The opening statements and witness testimony were delivered to a jury of 12 members and six alternates, who were seated last week for the historic trial.

Dozens of potential jurors quickly disqualified themselves from the process by declaring they could not be fair and impartial in deciding on the charges against the former president and current presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Others were excused from service after lawyers found past social media posts criticizing Trump.

The former president’s attorneys made about a dozen separate attempts to delay or dismiss the trial in the weeks leading up to it.

This included a request Friday afternoon that a Manhattan appeals court pause the case, in which they argued that Trump cannot receive a fair jury in New York City, where polls show he is deeply unpopular.

Merchan had seated a full jury that same day, and the appeals court swiftly rejected the last-minute effort.

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