During the opening arguments on Monday in the historic first criminal trial of a former US president, prosecutors leveled accusations against Donald Trump, alleging involvement in “criminal conspiracy and a cover-up.”

Prosecutors accused Donald Trump of engaging in “criminal conspiracy and a cover-up” as opening arguments began on Monday in the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo said that Trump falsified business records to pay $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to “silence” her about a potentially politically embarrassing sexual encounter.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up,” Colangelo told the jury of New Yorkers in a Manhattan courtroom. “He orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election.”

Trump, dressed in a dark suit and blue tie, sat at the defense table, staring straight ahead as the prosecutor delivered his opening statement, shifting back and forth in his seat a little.

Before the court session began, Trump condemned the case as “election interference” designed to derail his 2024 White House bid. “It’s a very, very sad day in America,” the 77-year-old Republican presidential candidate told reporters.

“I’m here instead of being able to be in Pennsylvania, in Georgia, and lots of other places campaigning,” he said. “This is a witch hunt, and it’s a shame, and it comes out of Washington.”

Trump is the first former president to face criminal charges and the case poses substantial risks to him less than seven months before his election rematch with President Joe Biden.

Prosecution witnesses are expected to include Daniels and Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen. The identities of the jury’s five women and seven men are being kept secret for their own protection.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records to pay “hush money” to Daniels to ensure that an account of their alleged 2006 extramarital affair did not get out ahead of the 2016 election.

The alleged crime is less significant than the indictments stemming from Trump’s attack on the 2020 election – which the Republican lost to Democrat Biden – and his hoarding of secret documents.

Trump could face jail time in the current case, although a fine or probation is more likely, analysts say.

Campaign Trail

The trial in a dingy courtroom will keep Trump off the campaign trail for four days a week over a possibly six-to-eight-week period, while Biden hammers him from the White House and around the country.

But Trump tried to use the heavy media attention to fire up his support base by giving regular statements outside the courtroom.

“This is going to be the beginning of probably the most sensational trial in American history,” former prosecutor Bennett Gershman, now a lecturer at Pace University, told AFP.

Trump railed against the case, particularly what he calls the “very unfair” partial gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan to prevent him from using his media presence to attack witnesses, prosecutors and relatives of court staff.

A hearing will be held on Tuesday during which Merchan will decide if Trump is already in contempt of court due to outbursts during jury selection.

The Republican’s three other criminal cases have been repeatedly delayed due to his successful strategy of challenging every step. However, Merchan has run the New York fraud trial on a tight schedule.

Potential jurors were grilled last week by prosecutors and defense attorneys about their media habits, political donations, education and whether they have attended pro- or anti-Trump rallies.

Many potential panelists were excused after saying that they could not be impartial, before lawyers and the judge whittled down the group to 12 jurors with six alternates.

A unanimous verdict will be required to convict Trump, who has been ordered to attend each day of the trial.

With AFP