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Opening Statements Commence in New York for Trump Hush-Money Trial

Donald Trump faces the commencement of the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president in New York, where prosecutors will argue that his alleged concealment of hush money payment to a porn star during his 2016 campaign violated the law. As the trial kicks off, Trump’s legal team will also present their opening statement in what could be the sole trial among the four criminal prosecutions he faces before his anticipated rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden on November 5.

The case revolves around the $130,000 payment made by Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to porn star Stormy Daniels to secure her silence about an alleged decade-old sexual encounter with Trump. Prosecutors contend that this payment, occurring in the final stages of Trump’s 2016 campaign amidst revelations of sexual misconduct, deceived voters. Trump, who denies any sexual encounter with Daniels, has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsification of business records filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

While legal experts perceive this trial as the least impactful among Trump’s litigations, a conviction could potentially dent his candidacy. Reuters/Ipsos polling indicates that a substantial proportion of independent voters and Republicans would reconsider their support for Trump in the event of a criminal conviction.

Prosecutors allege that the Daniels payment was part of a broader strategy, termed the “catch and kill” scheme, orchestrated by Trump, Cohen, and David Pecker, the former CEO of American Media. The objective was to suppress potentially damaging information about Trump before the 2016 election. Pecker is slated to be the prosecution’s first witness, with testimony expected to shed light on the collaboration between American Media and Trump’s campaign to bury unfavorable stories.

The trial’s focus lies on Trump’s alleged falsification of records concerning Cohen’s reimbursement for the Daniels payment, aimed at concealing the violation of campaign finance laws. Testimony regarding similar payments to other individuals, such as former Playboy model Karen McDougal and a doorman, will likely bolster the prosecution’s case, emphasizing a pattern of concealment by Trump.

Despite Trump’s legal entanglements, his political standing remains robust, with approval ratings among Republicans surging after the indictment announcement. However, his ongoing legal battles pose a formidable challenge, with three additional criminal indictments related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and handling of classified documents. As Trump navigates the legal landscape, Justice Juan Merchan has imposed a restricted gag order following Trump’s criticism of witnesses, prosecutors, and the judge, underscoring the contentious nature of the trial.

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