A Primer On Donald Trump’s Criminal Trial

Donald Trump is the first ever American president to be indicted on criminal charges. The trial over hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels has entered its closing stages, and a verdict could be announced before the end of the month.

A Primer On Donald Trump’s Criminal Trial

For over two hundred years in American history, no American president or former President had ever been indicted in a criminal trial. That changed in 2023 when former President Donald Trump was charged in four criminal cases over the span of five months, making him the first ever President to be indicted on criminal charges. 

The four indictments accuse Trump of a whole host of criminal activity, ranging from his presidential campaign to his time during and after office.

In three cases, a trial has yet to begin. These include the classified documents case in the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, the Georgia election interference case in Georgia’s Fulton County, and the federal election interference case in the District Court for the District of Columbia.

The news has been dominated however by the Stormy Daniels hush money case, which went to trial on April 15, 2024 in a Manhattan court, where Trump faces 34 felony counts under New York Penal Law, for falsifying business records by disguising payments made to his lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen as corporate legal expenses.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecution team is making a case that the falsification of the business records constituted violations of federal election laws, since the money was effectively an unreported contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign. If convicted, Trump could face up to four years in prison.

The case alleges that Trump sought to pay hush money to former adult film star Stormy Daniels, in exchange for buying her silence over an alleged sexual encounter, and in the process quashing a potential sex scandal during the last weeks of the 2016 Presidential election. Trump allegedly instructed Cohen to pay $130,000 to Daniels in October 2016, and later reimbursed Cohen while he occupied the Oval Office.

Trump has already landed himself in hot water by violating a gag order placed on him by Judge Juan Merchan, and has also been held in criminal contempt twice. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen is the prosecution’s star witness and has already testified that Trump ordered the payment of the hush money.

Cohen has testified that Trump received updates on the payment of the hush money, and Trump’s intent was to have the payments made before the 2016 Presidential election, which would also signal an intent to violate election law.

Reports say that the defense has tried to portray Cohen as an unreliable witness, as compulsively dishonest and entirely self-serving, even playing clips from his podcast Mea Culpa, where he brags about being the lynchpin in Trump’s trial.

It is not yet clear if Trump himself will take the stand and testify, but legal experts suggest that the trial could reach a verdict as soon as next week. If Trump is convicted, it is yet unclear if he would be sentenced to prison – which would complicate his campaign for the 2024 Presidential election as he shapes up as the presumptive Republican nominee.

Most likely, a conviction will not lead to any prison time as first-time offenders in non-violent felony cases are rarely given prison sentences. An outright acquittal would be lauded by Trump as evidence that the criminal cases against him are flawed and politically motivated.

While the hush money trial is based off a novel legal theory that falsifying business records consequently led to the violation of federation election laws, the prosecution has stronger cases against Trump in the election interference cases in Georgia and District Court in DC.

Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election were well documented and largely in public view, especially as he lied in numerous public statements, all of which eventually culminated in the January 6 attack on the Capitol building.