Donald Trump is on trial in New York. Here's what to know about the historic case

Trump is the first former president to face a criminal trial.

April 15, 2024, 6:58 AM

On Monday morning, several hundred New Yorkers will arrive at the Manhattan criminal courthouse to potentially serve as jurors in an historic trial of a former president of the United States.

In the coming weeks, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg -- who announced a 34-count indictment against Donald Trump one year ago -- will try to convince twelve jurors and six alternates that the former president falsified documents to hide salacious information from voters and boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election. Bragg is the first prosecutor to bring criminal charges against a current or former U.S. president.

Trump pleaded not guilty to the felony charges last year, and his lawyers have subsequently made at least 11 attempts to delay the trial, including three failed attempts last week to have a New York Appellate Court pause the case. The former president has labeled the entire prosecution a "witch hunt" and "election interference," as he campaigns as the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential election.

"This is what you call a communist show trial, and we're going communist. Don't kid yourself. If we don't win this election, this country is finished," Trump told his supporters during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

Jury selection could take at least a week, with the entire trial estimated to last six to eight weeks. Trump is required to be present in the courtroom for the entire trial, which will sit each weekday except Wednesday, beginning on Monday with the start of jury selection.

How will jury selection work?

As potential jurors get settled in the courtroom on Monday, Judge Juan Merchan is expected to read a summary of the case to help them decide if they can be fair and impartial jurors.

According to a filing last week, Merchan will tell the potential jurors that the case centers on allegations that Trump engaged with others in a scheme to "unlawfully influence the 2016 election." To do so, Trump allegedly "created false business records to hide the true nature of payments" to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen, who made a payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels "to prevent her from publicly revealing the details of a past sexual encounter" with Trump. The former president has pleaded not guilty to all changes and has denied that he ever had an affair with Daniels.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Rome, Ga., March 9, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Rome, Ga., March 9, 2024.
Mike Stewart/AP, FILE

Merchan plans to excuse jurors who determine they cannot be fair or impartial or have a conflict that would prevent them from serving in the lengthy trial.

Jurors will then be asked to answer 42 questions about themselves and their potential thoughts on the case. Trump, his lawyers, and consultants will have access to the names of the jurors, whose identities will remain hidden from the public.

Some questions are relatively standard for the voir dire process -- where they live and work, their marital status, where they get their news, and their past interactions with law enforcement -- while others specifically probe for potential bias related to Trump.

"Do you have any strong opinions or firmly held beliefs about former President Donald Trump or the fact that he is a current candidate for president that would interfere with your ability to be a fair or impartial juror?" another question asks, while others ask if jurors identify with movements like Antifa or QAnon, or if they have ever attended a Trump rally.

Jurors -- who will be seated in the same room as the former president -- will be asked to answer each question aloud, and they may be asked follow-up questions by lawyers, according to Merchan's protocols. The parties are allowed to strike an unlimited number of jurors for cause, while each side is permitted ten peremptory strikes, which are used to excuse jurors for any reason.

Trump's lawyers have argued that the entire process cannot fairly take place in Manhattan, where they argue that too many potential jurors have negative opinions about the former president. An appeals court denied their request to delay the trial while they argued the case should take place in a different county that is more favorable to him.

"It's not whether somebody has knowledge of the case or whether they have formed an opinion," said trial attorney Chris Timmons, an ABC News contributor. "The question is, can they set that opinion aside?"

In a letter last week, Trump's lawyers asked for minor revisions in the jury selection process, requesting that they have more leeway in assessing political bias, and asking that the court keep a better record of the number of jurors who get excused because they self-identify that they can't be fair or impartial.

"Jury selection is largely luck; it depends who you get," Trump said Friday.

What is Trump prohibited from saying?

With Trump sidelined from the campaign trial for at least four days a week, the former president is expected to use the trial to reinforce his campaign messages and rail against the proceeding. A camera in the hallway outside his courtroom will allow the former president to make remarks about the case, and he could make extended speeches before or after court at a nearby building he owns downtown.

"I don't know how you're going to have a trial that's going on right in the middle of an election," Trump said after a hearing in the case last month. "Not fair. It's not fair at all."

Judge Merchan imposed a limited gag order in the case last month that prohibits Trump from making comments about potential jurors, witnesses in the case, individual prosecutors other than Bragg, and the families of both Merchan and Bragg.

"On Monday in New York City, I will be forced to sit fully gagged," Trump said Saturday, though the former president is permitted to address most elements of the case, including targeting both Bragg and Merchan. "I'm not allowed to talk. Can you believe it?

Trump has toed the line of the gag order in the past weeks, targeting some potential witnesses on social media, sharing articles about the daughter of the judge, and targeting a member of Bragg's team.

When Merchan expanded the limited gag order earlier this month to cover his and Bragg's families, he put Trump "on notice" if he violated the gag order related to the jury selection process.

"Defendant is hereby put on notice that he will forfeit any statutory right he might have to access juror names if he engages in conduct that threatens the safety and integrity of the jury or the jury selection process," Merchan wrote.

Who will testify?

Prosecutors and defense lawyers have not released their witness lists ahead of the trial, but Bragg is expected to center his case on the testimony of Trump's former lawyer and so-called fixer Michael Cohen.

According to prosecutors, Cohen coordinated the hush-money payments that sit at the center of their case, and Trump allegedly falsified records related to Cohen's reimbursement for the payment.

Prosecutors are also expected to call both Daniels and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who also received a hush-money payment for an affair that she alleged but Trump denied. Former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney, Trump's longtime executive assistant Rhona Graff, Trump's former director of Oval Office Operations Madeleine Westerhout, and his longtime aide Hope Hicks are also potential witnesses who could testify, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Other witnesses could include former American Media Inc. executive David Pecker and National Enquirer editor-in-chief Dylan Howard, who allegedly helped coordinate the hush payments, according to the indictment.

Trump has suggested he might testify in his own defense during the trial, and his lawyers have said that they will argue that the former president did not intend to commit a crime.

"I would testify, absolutely," Trump said on Friday.

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