Prosecutors, defense deliver opening statements in Trump's hush-money trial

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as his attorney Todd Blanche (R) listens while leaving his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Monday. Trump is charged with falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal during the 2016 campaign. Pool photo by Victor J. Blue/UPI
1 of 4 | Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as his attorney Todd Blanche (R) listens while leaving his criminal trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Monday. Trump is charged with falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal during the 2016 campaign. Pool photo by Victor J. Blue/UPI | License Photo

April 22 (UPI) -- The first day of Donald Trump's historic hush-money trial concluded Monday afternoon with opening statements from both sides and testimony from its first witness, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

Following last week's completion of jury selection, opening statements began in the morning with prosecutors painting the former president as the ringleader of a corrupt conspiracy to influence the 2016 presidential election and defense lawyers attempting to portray the charges against him as insignificant.


Trump is accused of 34 counts of falsifying business records in an attempt to hide payments he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to cover up an affair. He also is accused of executing a "catch and kill" scheme to bury negative stories about him as he campaigned for president against Democrat Hillary Clinton.


The prosecution, which is is tasked with proving to the jury that these allegations are true beyond a reasonable doubt, opened the first-ever criminal case against a U.S. president with a scathing account of the Stormy Daniels timeline delivered by Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Matthew Colangelo.

"The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election then, then he covered up that conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over again," Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Matthew Colangelo told the jurors.

The prosecutor characterized the alleged conspiracy as starting with a meeting at Trump Tower in 2015 involving the former president, his then-lawyer and chief "fixer" Michael Cohen, and Pecker, who was the publisher the National Enquirer tabloid at that time.

"Those three men formed a conspiracy at that meeting to influence the presidential election by concealing negative information about Trump in order to help him get elected," Colangelo said.

The deal allegedly included an agreement under which Pecker would "catch and kill" any potentially negative stories about Trump by buying such information from their sources in order to prevent its release.

The alleged deal became especially relevant after the publication of the Access Hollywood tape transcript in October 2016 caused tremendous embarrassment to the Trump campaign, Colangelo said. He read part of the transcript to the jury, in which the soon-to-be president is heard in 2005 bragging about sexually assaulting women.


In the wake of the backlash, Daniels also came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump. In response, he ordered to Cohen to pay Daniels $130,000 and falsified business records to cover up the transaction after Pecker refused to participate, Colangelo alleged.

"It was election fraud, pure and simple," he said.

Following the prosecution's opening statements, Trump attorney Todd Blanche addressed the jury, calling the allegations against his client a series of non-issues that should never have been considered crimes.

"President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney should never have brought this case," he told jurors, later going on to slam the credibility of Cohen -- who is expected to the prosecution's star witness -- and Daniels.

Cohen, he alleged, is a scorned Trump loyalist who remains "obsessed with President Trump -- he's obsessed with President Trump, even to this day," while describing Daniels' involvement as immaterial to the case, saying, "Her testimony, while salacious, does not matter."

Trump, Blanche said, "fought back, like he always does, like he's entitled to do to protect his family, his reputation, and his brand. That is not a crime."

Following opening statements, Pecker took the stand as the first prosecution witness. The ex-publisher, a longtime Trump ally, testified about the nature of what he called "checkbook journalism."


"We used 'checkbook journalism and we paid for stories," he testified. "I gave a number to the editors that they could not spend more than $10,000 to investigate, produce or publish a story."

The day's activities concluded at 12:42 p.m. EDT.

Afterwards, Trump spoke to reporters outside the courtroom, voicing complaints about Cohen and the "unfairness" of the prosecution.

"[Cohen] represented a lot of people over the years, but they take this payment and they call it illegal," he said. "This is taking me off the campaign trail... I should be in Georgia now. I should be in Florida now ... and I'm sitting here. It's very unfair."

Trump also lashed out over the case on his way into the courtroom Monday morning. He repeated his claim that the case is "election interference" and called it "unfair." He has remarked several times that the cases against him are interfering with his ability to campaign for president.

Some members of the jury have remained anxious about the high-profile trial.

Presiding Judge Juan Merchan said Monday that one juror who was concerned about the media attention surrounding the trial will remain on the jury. Some potential jurors expressed fear about serving, while others were dismissed after saying they did not feel they could be impartial.


Trump has also continued to voice criticism about the gag order against him that bars him from speaking about those involved in the trial. Merchan issued a gag order against Trump over comments he was making on the campaign trail and on social media. Merchan was also concerned about Trump intimidating witnesses and jurors.

Judges and prosecutors have received threats across multiple cases involving the former president.

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