Donald Trump calls hush money case an 'assault on America' ahead of historic trial

By John Mercury April 15, 2024

Donald Trump has described the hush money case against him as a “scam” as the first day of the historic trial comes to an end in New York.

He is accused of criminally altering business records to cover up a $130,000 (£104,200) payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, during his 2016 election campaign.

Ms Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who was paid $150,000 (£120,000), both claim to have had affairs with Trump.

His lawyers say the payment was meant to spare himself and his family embarrassment, not to help him win the election.

The day focused on handling motion arguments from the defence and prosecution and selecting the jury, but ended with no jury members being seated after they were subject to a 42-question survey which asked them about their news habits, hobbies and ability to travel.

Inside the Manhattan courtroom where he is the first ex-US president to face a criminal trial, Trump stood and turned around when he was introduced as the defendant, giving prospective jurors a little tight-lipped smirk.

Speaking earlier as he arrived at the courthouse, Trump said: “Nothing like this has ever happened before. It should never been brought.”

Donald Trump  sits in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York.
Pic: Reuters
Donald Trump sits in Manhattan Criminal Court in New York.
Pic: Reuters

“It’s an assault on America. An assault on our country. A country that’s failing,” he added.

“It’s an attack on a political opponent, that’s all it is. So I’m very proud to be here.”

Read more:
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The key figures in the hush money case

Pic: AP
Pic: AP

Trump then continued to attack US President Joe Biden and repeated claims that the trial is political persecution, saying: “It’s a country that’s run by an incompetent man who is very much involved in this case.”

Before proceedings began Judge Juan M Merchan denied a request by the defence to recuse himself from the case.

Defence lawyers had renewed a motion from last summer arguing an interview Mr Merchan gave to the media, his daughter’s work at a political consultancy firm and his daughter’s social media activity created a conflict of interest that merited recusal.

Stormy Daniels, seen here in January, received a $130,000 payment from Trump's lawyer Pic: AP/DeeCee Carter/MediaPunch /IPX
Stormy Daniels, claims to have had an affair with Trump. Pic: AP/DeeCee Carter/MediaPunch /IPX

But Mr Merchan said Trump had “failed to provide” evidence of a conflict and instead relied on a “series of inferences [and] innuendos”.

“Defendant’s second motion for recusal is denied,” the judge ruled in court.

He added he will not yet rule on Trump’s request to skip the trial on 17 May in order to attend his son’s high school graduation.

“It really depends on if we are on time and where we are in the trial,” Mr Merchan said.

Donald Trump .
Pic: Reuters
Pic: Reuters

Turning the focus back on Trump, prosecutors asked Mr Merchan to fine him $3,000 (£2,500) for three separate social media posts that violate a 1 April gag order which said the former president could not threaten or talk about the trial in public.

Prosecutor Christopher Conroy asked the judge to remind Trump that violations such as these could lead to jail time.

One of Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche, said the posts on Truth Social did not violate the gag order because Trump was responding to witnesses’ public statements.

Mr Merchan said he will hold a hearing on 24 April over the request.

People hold placards against Former U.S. President Donald Trump on the day of his hush money criminal trial, in New York City, U.S., April 15, 2024. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
People hold placards against Trump. Pic: Reuters

Selection of the jury

Today, more than half of the first group of prospective jurors in were excused after telling the judge they couldn’t be fair and impartial.

Sky News’ US partner network NBC said jury selection alone take up to two weeks because of the large pool of prospective jurors.

Both the defence and prosecution agreed to a “hybrid” approach to the selection process, involving jurors being asked separate questions – one about conflicts with the trial, and another on whether jurors identify as impartial or unbiased.

Mr Merchan said the process – first requested by Trump’s lawyers – would not delay anything.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, later asked Mr Merchan to introduce other allegations of sexual assault against Trump as evidence in the trial – which the judge refused.

He called the allegations “complete hearsay”.

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Mr Merchan also refused the prosecution from playing Trump’s Access Hollywood tape – where the former president was heard speaking disparagingly about women before making a cameo appearance on a television show in 2005.

“I remain convinced at this moment… that the tape should not come in,” the judge said regarding the tape, adding that prosecutors could introduce the exact words that Trump said and an email related to the tape, as long as jurors do not hear the recording itself.

Hitting back, Mr Blanche, said the jury would get everything they need to prove the charges from what Mr Merchan has already ruled.

‘No one is above the law’

Around 200 Trump supporters gathered outside the court as well as roughly 40 other individuals who were protesting against the former president.

Donald Trump at Manhattan criminal court with his legal team ahead of the start of jury selection
Trump with his legal team ahead of the start of jury selection. Pic: Reuters

One group of demonstrators carried a banner that read, “no one is above the law”.

Monday’s proceedings mark the first of four indictments against the former president to go to trial, and is the first to be held ahead of this year’s presidential election.

Trump faces two other criminal trials accusing him of trying to subvert his 2020 election loss to Mr Biden, and another that accuses him of mishandling classified information after he left the White House in 2021.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. No other former US president has ever faced criminal charges.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, said he co-ordinated with Trump on payments to Ms Daniels and to Ms McDougal.

Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2018 in relation to the payments and was sentenced to three years in prison. He was released into house arrest after one year.


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