NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial opened on Monday in a historic first for a US ex-president and a seismic twist to an already explosive 2024 presidential election, where the scandal-plagued Republican is seeking to return to power.

“Good morning Mr Trump,” Judge Juan Merchan said to the defendant in the courtroom, where the Republican sat with hunched shoulders and a stern expression.

Trump, wearing his trademark red tie, white shirt and blue suit, strode into the courtroom, walking past nine rows of wooden benches and took his seat.

The 77-year-old is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged extramarital encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his 2016 election campaign from a last-minute upheaval.

Republican nominee for 2024 presidential race seeks to spin his criminal cases as ‘proof of persecution’

The so-called hush money affair is one of four criminal cases hanging over Trump, including historic prosecutions against the Republican’s alleged attempts to subvert the 2020 election and prevent the winner, Joe Biden, from taking office.

If convicted in the hush money case, Trump would potentially face years in prison, but legal observers consider this unlikely. Even so, the prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon throws an unprecedented wild card into an already unpredictable November 5 election, where he wants to defeat Biden and retake the White House.

The hard-right populist is running on dark vows of “vengeance” and seeking to spin his criminal cases as evidence of persecution.

Trump is accused of illegally covering up remittances to his longtime attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who was using the funds to pay Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about the alleged sexual encounter in the final days of the 2016 election campaign.

Trump, who claims he will not get a fair trial in heavily Democratic New York, denies the charges and says the encounter with Clifford and another with a Playboy nude model did not happen.

Even if convicted, the ex-president would be able to appeal and would not be barred from continuing to run, or even being elected president.

Over 50 prospective jurors excused from trial

While 96 potential panelists were assembled in the New York court to be screened for their ability to fairly judge Trump, more than 50 prospective jurors were excused from the landmark trial after they said they would not be able to try him fairly and impartially.

Selection of 12 jurors could go on as long as two weeks, according to one of Trump’s lawyers.

One prospective juror, a woman with short hair, said “I just couldn’t do it” as she left the courtroom. Jurors must answer a questionnaire including checks on whether they have been members of far-right groups associated with Trump.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

More pledges
Updated 25 May, 2024

More pledges

There needs to be continuity in economic policies, while development must be focused on bringing prosperity to the masses.
Pemra overreach
25 May, 2024

Pemra overreach

IT seems, at best, a misguided measure and, at worst, an attempt to abuse regulatory power to silence the media. A...
Enduring threat
25 May, 2024

Enduring threat

THE death this week of journalist Nasrullah Gadani, who succumbed to injuries after being attacked by gunmen, is yet...
IMF’s unease
Updated 24 May, 2024

IMF’s unease

It is clear that the next phase of economic stabilisation will be very tough for most of the population.
Belated recognition
24 May, 2024

Belated recognition

WITH Wednesday’s announcement by three European states that they intend to recognise Palestine as a state later...
App for GBV survivors
24 May, 2024

App for GBV survivors

GENDER-based violence is caught between two worlds: one sees it as a crime, the other as ‘convention’. The ...