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Opinion

Ex-president Trump’s hush money trial to commences Monday

Of the four criminal cases that are pending against Trump, the hush money scandal is perhaps the least serious.

Less than seven months before voters decide whether to elect the scandal-plagued Republican back to the White House, Donald Trump becomes the first former US president to go on trial for a crime on Monday, testing the limits of the country’s legal and political processes.

In order to prevent his 2016 election from being derailed, Trump is charged with fabricating business papers in an attempt to hide an alleged sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels.

Of the four criminal cases that are pending against Trump, the hush money scandal is perhaps the least serious.

However, the actual possibility that Trump will be found guilty of a crime and may perhaps have to do time in jail adds an incredible wild card to an already historic race in which the right-wing populist is campaigning on dark promises of “vengeance” against Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated him in 2020.

The trial will begin with the potential for a drawn-out and difficult jury selection process involving 12 people.

Judge Juan Merchan will gather a group of more than a hundred common people, and they will be required to respond to a questionnaire that includes inquiries about their membership in far-right organisations such as the Proud Boys, who organised a group of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to prevent Biden’s election from being certified.

On the other hand, the specifics of financial laws are the focus of the actual accusations.

In the last few weeks of the 2016 election campaign, Stormy Daniels allegedly had a sexual encounter with Trump. Trump is accused of paying Cohen, his longtime lawyer and fixer, illegal transfers to conceal the affair.

In March 2023, a grand jury in New York indicted Trump on charges of 34 counts of falsifying business documents pertaining to the payments he paid to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

He denies the charges and could use the trial, scheduled for up to two months, as a prominent platform to decry what he alleges is “lawfare” and election interference by his political opponents. Trump also claims that he will not get a fair trial in heavily Democratic New York.

However, the real estate magnate and longtime reality TV show star is using the limelight as an unlikely campaign boost — touting himself as a victim and using outrage among his supporters to fundraise.

Even if convicted, he would be able to appeal and would not be barred from continuing to run or even being elected president on November 5.

Trump’s other three criminal cases — centered on his alleged hoarding of top-secret documents in Florida after he left the White House and his involvement in attempts to overturn the 2020 election — all face multiple delays.

In the New York case, Trump has repeatedly failed to secure meaningful delays and Merchan has signaled he will run the trial with a firm hand.

Last week the judge extended an existing gag order, in place to prevent Trump from attacking those involved in the trial, widening it to cover family members of the judge and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the lead prosecutor.

The expansion of the order came after Trump lashed out at Merchan and his daughter in a series of posts on Truth Social.

“The stakes are very high. Because Trump and his counsel have succeeded so far in kicking down the road the federal documents and election interference cases,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias. “The hush money case may be the only case that is tried prior to the November federal elections.”

In New York, where Trump has been a fixture for decades as an entrepreneur, celebrity playboy, politician and now criminal defendant, there is little sympathy.

“I don’t know if he’ll get a fair trial, but whatever happens… he did it to himself,” said city resident Alberto Vasquez, 45.

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