Politics & Economics / USA2024

USA 2024: -203, Trump’s trial begins in New York

April 2024
By Giampiero Gramaglia

The day has come. No, not the day of the 2024 USA elections; there are still 203 days to go for that. Nor is it – at least, we hope – the day of the Last Judgment. Simply, it is the day when Donald Trump will appear in a courtroom as a defendant in a criminal trial: never before has a former U.S. President been at risk of imprisonment for common crimes.

The trial in Manhattan, New York, concerning the hush money paid during the 2016 US election campaign to silence a porn star, Stormy Daniels, legally known as Stephanie Clifford, about their alleged relationship ten years earlier, begins today with jury selection. The tycoon’s lawyers have unsuccessfully attempted, through pretexts and various legal quibbles, to postpone, move, or dismiss it.

Of the four proceedings in which the former president is accused, this one – according to legal experts – is the least solid, with less evident and less severe charges. However, it is also the only one likely to reach a verdict before the USA 2024 Election Day on November 5.

Trump, who is currently the implicit Republican candidate for the White House, must be present in court for the next six to eight weeks – the estimated duration of the trial – and cannot miss any hearing. The tycoon faces 34 charges.

In anticipation of the trial’s opening and its proceedings, the New York police have strengthened security measures around the Manhattan courthouse, creating a protective perimeter using reinforcements, barriers, and drones: demonstrations both for and against the tycoon are expected outside the courthouse.

And, regarding the jury selection process, for which Judge Juan M. Merchan has already set the rules, the media question the possibility of finding 12 impartial jurors in New York, given the media impact that the case, the investigation, and the indictment, not to mention the characters involved, have had.

The main characters, in addition to Trump and his legal team, are Judge Merchan, District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and the two key witnesses, whom Trump calls “two bags of garbage”: namely, his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who has been convicted and imprisoned for crimes committed at his service and is also disbarred, and Stormy Daniels, about whose life a documentary film, ‘Stormy,’ has just been released.

Despite the ‘gag’ imposed by Judge Merchan, Trump does not seem willing to limit his offensive and threatening language toward the judge, investigators, jurors, and witnesses: his intention is to turn the trial into a spectacle where he is the main actor, offering him a sort of electoral platform.

No former U.S. President has ever faced a criminal proceeding. And this could cause a stir not only for what the former lawyer and the porn star will say but also for “the truth,” or at least “his” truth, that Trump promises from the witness stand. “I will testify and tell the truth: that I have committed no crime,” while Daniels and Cohen “are liars” and justice is “persecuting” him.

Trump is specifically accused of falsifying company documents to conceal a payment of $130,000 to the adult film actress and director in 2016 to keep her silent about their relationship. Cohen physically issued the checks to the porn star and to Playboy bunny Karen McDougal and then, according to Bragg, was reimbursed in the form of “legal expenses.”

The other proceedings initiated against the former president involve inciting the January 6, 2021 insurrection to subvert the result of the 2020 vote – in Washington –, attempting to overturn the election outcome in Georgia – in Atlanta –, and refusing to hand over hundreds of classified documents taken from the White House and stored at Mar-a-Lago – in Florida -.

None of these trials has a certain start date, mainly due to the dilatory actions of Trump’s lawyers: the Supreme Court must rule, likely early this summer, on the former president’s claim of immunity.

In New York, the tycoon’s lawyers hope for an acquittal. However, if he were to be found guilty, each charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison – but custodial sentences in such cases for a person without prior convictions are not common. Nevertheless, even if convicted, Trump could still run for the White House and, according to the Constitution, could even win the election from prison. These are, at the moment, purely theoretical scenarios.