UPDATED with jury selection info: When networks and other news outlets descend on the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse today for opening statements in Donald Trump‘s latest trial, much will be made of the fact that this is a moment like no other: A former president, before a jury, facing criminal proceedings.

The case itself has been referred to as the “hush money” case or the “Stormy Daniels case,” far sexier titles than the underlying issues involved: Falsification of business records.

That isn’t to say there hasn’t been drama, as Trump’s relentless attacks on the judge and his family members, along with potential witnesses, signaled raucous moments in the courtroom, just as was seen as he faced civil proceedings in cases brought by writer E. Jean Carroll and New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Last week, as a jury of seven men and five women were selected, Judge Juan Merchan scolded Trump’s attorneys to keep their client quiet. With Trump muttering at one point as a potential juror was being questioned, the judge warned against juror intimidation. At other points, Trump had to sit and listen as a succession of potential jurors explained past derogatory social media posts about the former president, or simply said what they didn’t like about him. And according to The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, at other instances, Trump dozed off. Outside the courthouse, there has been a presence of a handful of demonstrators, but the scene took an alarming turn when a man set himself on fire, a moment captured on CNN and other news outlets.

Trump’s latest trial is the first after he was indicted four times last year on separate criminal charges, with other cases pending in Florida, Washington, D.C. and in Georgia. That he faces more than 80 separate counts has made for a confusing legal landscape, especially since the scheduling has put into doubt whether any of the remaining cases will go to trial before the election showdown with Joe Biden. Trump himself has claimed that the sheer number of charges against him is evidence of anti-Trump bias, a line that he will likely repeat over and over again just outside the New York courtroom.

Here’s a rundown of what the case, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, is about and what to expect:

What is Trump being charged with?

The former president was indicted last year on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, a felony. The charges have to do with the way that Trump allegedly concealed “hush” money payments made in advance of the 2016 presidential election. Those included $130,000 that Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen paid to actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged that she had an affair with Trump, something he has denied. Payments to others allegedly were part of a scheme in which American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for her story, then sidelined her public accusations against Trump. That is part of a “catch and kill” scheme in which the Enquirer would buy up embarrassing stories to suppress them. Cohen was to then reimburse AMI for the payments, although that never happened.

Stormy Daniels

Stormy Daniels

Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Why prosecutors say the “hush” money payments were illegal

People are paid all the time to keep quiet about embarrassing details and legal settlements, so paying “hush” money is not inherently against the law. What is against the law, according to prosecutors, was Trump’s alleged effort to conceal the payments in Trump Organization business records. According to the indictment, Cohen was reimbursed via checks processed by the Trump Organization, but they were disguised as payments for legal services under a retainer agreement that did not exist.

The burden is on prosecutors to show not only that Trump made or caused the falsified business records, but also did so with the intent to conceal another crime.

Cohen already has served prison time after he plead guilty to charges related to the payments, as they were considered illegal campaign contributions, or something meant to benefit Trump in his presidential campaign.

What happens today

With the jury seated, the judge plans to move to opening statements. He also is expected to rule on a series of motions at the outset, having to do with the types of evidence that prosecutors can bring in the case. The New York Times reported that David Pecker, the former CEO of National Enquirer parent American Media, is expected to be the first witness to testify. That is a signal that prosecutors plan to emphasize that the purpose of the hush money payments was to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Will Trump’s trial be televised?

No. There will be no cameras in the courtroom for this one.

In fact, short of lining up in the wee hours to get one of the few seats to witness the trial in person, you won’t be able to see the trial at all except for a couple of photographs every day. Despite the stakes of the case in the middle of an election year, as well as its historic importance, New York generally restricts cameras in the courtroom. Merchan is allowing a limited pool to take shots of the scene before the proceedings began, as he did for Trump’s arraignment last year. That means that other visuals are likely to come from courtroom sketch artists, with reporters left to offer descriptive accounts in their own breaks from the proceedings.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Steven Hirsch-Pool/Getty Images

How long is the trial?

That’s not always easy to discern, but estimates are anywhere from six to eight weeks. And who knows how long that jury could take deliberating to come up with a verdict behind closed doors. So, this hush money trial could be over just a couple of weeks before the Republican National Convention opens in Milwaukee on July 15. Awkward.

What sentence does Trump face?

Each count carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. But there is some doubt that Trump, if convicted, would face anywhere near that, or even jail time at all, given that he is not a repeat offender. Each count also carries a fine of up to $5,000. For Trump to be convicted on any of the counts, all 12 jurors must find him guilty.

Trump also faces the possibility of sanctions or some other type of punishment as he is under a partial gag order from the judge. Trump has attacked the judge and his daughter, as well as likely witnesses in the case. Trump has continued to attack Daniels and Cohen and, although the judge has not acted on those latest remarks, the situation could very well change once the trial commences. Merchan plans a hearing this week on prosecutors’ motion to fine Trump for violations of the gag order.

Who is the judge?

Merchan told the AP last month that “there’s no agenda here. We want to follow the law. We want justice to be done.” Trump has blasted Merchan as biased, and the former president’s attorneys have cited the judge’s presiding over a tax fraud case against the Trump Organization, which resulted in a $1.6 million fine. Despite efforts by Trump’s team to remove Merchan from the trial, higher courts have declined to do so.

Who is expected to testify?

It’s expected that Cohen and Daniels will be among the star witnesses, along with McDougal. There are also reports that Hope Hicks, once a close adviser to Trump, will be called as a witness. Unclear is whether Trump himself will testify, but he did take the stand in Carroll’s defamation trial earlier this year. As a criminal defendant, he is required to be at each day’s proceedings … and Trump is now fully aware that he has the media’s attention with every scowl and utterance, in or out of the courtroom. He’s passed up few opportunities to comment on the case in between breaks, calling the case a “scam” and attacking the judge and Bragg.

Dominic Patten contributed to this report.



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