Trump trial set to kick off today in a historic first for a former president

When order is called in room 1530 of the Manhattan Criminal Court at about 9:30 ET on Monday morning, it will mark the beginning of an event never before seen in American history: a former president on trial for alleged crimes.

Flanked by his attorneys, Secret Service agents and key campaign staff, Donald Trump will be seated on the left side of the largest courtroom in the 83-year-old building, at a table where countless defendants before him have appeared.

The case is the first of four criminal prosecutions against Trump to make it to trial. He faces charges in two federal cases brought by special counsel Jack Smith in Washington, D.C., and Florida, and in a second state case brought by prosecutors in Georgia. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming the prosecutions are part of a plot by his political opponents aimed at keeping him from retaking the White House.

Monday’s proceedings will begin with Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office arguing over some outstanding issues related to trial rules. Then, the first of more than 500 potential jurors will be escorted into the room. By that point, many will have noticed the extraordinary security apparatus outside and within the courthouse, as well as anticipated demonstrators for and against Trump. In Trump’s recent civil defamation trial just a block away, several would-be jurors appeared visibly shocked when they first saw him sitting at the defense table. 

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan's courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York, seen on March 12, 2024.
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan’s courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York, seen on March 12, 2024.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Many will be able to see Trump and observe any of his reactions while the judge describes the case. The allegations, New York State Justice Juan Merchan is expected to say, “are, in substance, that Donald Trump falsified business records to conceal an agreement with others to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election.

He’ll continue by mentioning the names of two well-known key witnesses in the case, both of whom Trump considers archnemeses: his former attorney Michael Cohen, and the adult film star Stormy Daniels.

“Specifically, it is alleged that Donald Trump made or caused false business records to hide the true nature of payments made to Michael Cohen, by characterizing them as payment for legal services rendered pursuant to a retainer agreement,” Merchan will say, according to pretrial court filings. “The [prosecutors] allege that in fact, the payments were intended to reimburse Michael Cohen for money he paid to Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, in the weeks before the presidential election to prevent her from publicly revealing details about a past sexual encounter with Donald Trump.

As a criminal defendant, Trump is required to attend proceedings each day of the trial unless he applies for a waiver. He’ll watch on Monday, and likely several more days, as his lawyers and prosecutors seek to whittle the group of potential jurors down to just 12, plus a few alternates. The two sides will then begin presenting their cases.

Trump has entered a not guilty plea to 34 counts of falsification of business records. He has accused Bragg of bringing the case for political gain.In a letter to members of Congress last year, a lawyer for Bragg hit back at that accusation, saying “were brought by citizens of New York, doing their civic duty as members of a grand jury, who found probable cause to accuse Mr. Trump of having committed crimes in New York.”

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