What you need to know about the Donald Trump hush money criminal trial

NEW YORK — For the first time in the nation’s history, a former U.S. president will go on trial Monday when jury selection kicks off in District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Donald Trump focused on an illicit hush money payoff to Stormy Daniels.

The scheme at the heart of the case has long been public knowledge, first hitting the headlines in January 2018 when a bombshell story in the Wall Street Journal reported that Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, had silenced a porn star who alleged she slept with Trump in a scheme to secure Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election.

The twists and turns in the ensuing years saw Cohen flip on Trump and go to prison, Daniels become a household name, both disparaged endlessly by the former president on social media, and too many book deals to list.

The sensational saga is poised to reach its crescendo when the main characters collide at the 100 Centre St. trial, where a jury of Manhattanites will weigh whether Trump committed crimes the last time he was within reach of the presidency as he vies for another victory this November.

Here’s a refresher on what to know about the historic hush money case:

What is the trial going to look like?

Trump and his Secret Service entourage are expected to descend on the lower Manhattan courthouse around 9 a.m. Monday, along with throngs of reporters, photographers, prospective jurors, and potentially protesters.

The trial is expected to last six weeks, including the jury selection process, which could take weeks as the judge and two sides sift through hundreds of New Yorkers to find 12 unbiased jurors and six alternates.

Unlike his past civil trials, Trump is expected to be present in the downtown courthouse every day unless he requests otherwise. He told reporters late Friday he plans to testify.

What crimes is Trump accused of?

The former president is accused of repeatedly and fraudulently falsifying New York business records to disguise a hush money scheme that hid potentially damaging information about his past from the voting public.

Prosecutors say the scheme started in August 2015 at Trump Tower, where Trump met Cohen and David Pecker, the chairman of American Media, Inc., the company that formerly owned The National Enquirer, to devise a plan to “catch and kill” stories brewing that could foil his candidacy. Pecker agreed to be the Trump campaign’s “eyes and ears” and to alert Cohen when anything arose so they could negotiate exclusive rights to stories and ensure they’d never be published. Both American Media, Inc. and Cohen have admitted to their roles.

Among those Trump sought to keep mum about his lurid misdeeds, prosecutors say, were:

—Daniels, who alleges Trump cheated on Melania with her at a 2006 Lake Tahoe golf tournament, less than a year after the birth of his youngest child.

—Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who alleged she had a nine-month affair with Trump in 2006

—Dino Sajudin, a doorman at Trump Tower trying to sell a story alleging Trump fathered a child out of wedlock.

Trump faces 34 felony counts representing 11 checks reimbursed to Cohen for facilitating the scheme totaling $420,000, 11 related invoices, and 12 ledger entries. Prosecutors allege that he falsely recorded the payments as “legal expenses” and retainer fees to cover up a second crime — the hush money scheme that violated election laws — constituting Class-E felony offenses.

According to the DA’s case and admissions by Cohen and Pecker in Cohen’s 2018 federal case, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 and handled related hush money expenses and American Media, Inc., made a $150,000 payoff to McDougal and $30,000 to the doorman.

Why is this case being tried eight years later?

Within a year of the public learning about the hush money scheme, Cohen had turned on Trump, copped to doing his dirty work, and was on his way to federal prison. But it looked like the former president would emerge unscathed.

Feds at the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office notoriously implicated Trump in their case against Cohen as “Individual-1.” Still, they declined to pursue charges per a Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president. In July 2019, a judge revealed the feds’ campaign finance probe had ended.

About a year after Cohen’s conviction, across the street from the feds, then-Manhattan DA Cy Vance, Jr. revived a probe into the hush money scheme that expanded to include Trump’s business dealings. But after years of investigating Trump, Vance left office without pulling the trigger on an indictment — leaving the decision up to his successor, Alvin Bragg.

Bragg quickly clashed with investigators hired by the previous administration eager for him to immediately green-light charges against Trump.

The conflict exploded into public view less than two months into his tenure when former prosecutors Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne dramatically quit and Pomerantz’s leaked resignation letter claimed Trump was guilty of numerous felonies and that it was the new DA’s “grave failure of justice” not to bring a case.

Pomerantz went on to write a controversial book about why he quit, while Bragg promised the public he hadn’t made up his mind.

Less than a year later, he began presenting evidence to a new grand jury about the hush money scheme and secured an indictment against Trump on March 30, 2023. AG Tish James’ office ultimately brought a business fraud case against Trump in the civil courts, recently culminating in almost half a billion dollars in fines, which Trump is appealing.

What is Michael Cohen’s role?

Trump’s longtime fixer-turned-bitter enemy is expected to be the DA’s star witness and has cooperated extensively since he went to prison for Trump.

Months after the feds raided his residences in April 2018 — and Cohen told The News he wasn’t worried — Trump’s bulldog attorney agreed to plead guilty to violating campaign finance laws by carrying out the hush money scheme at his behest. He also admitted to tax evasion and lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Moscow and, in 2018, cooperated during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference.

Cohen sought to cooperate with the feds to receive a more lenient sentence but refused to be fully truthful and got a three-year term for what the late Judge William Pauley described as “a veritable smorgasbord of fraudulent conduct.”

He served the latter half of his sentence at his Trump Park Avenue apartment on account of the COVID-19 pandemic and was briefly thrown back in prison when he refused not to write a book about Trump under house arrest.

Pecker and since-twice convicted Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg were among those to receive immunity in the feds’ investigation into Cohen.

What has Stormy Daniels said about Trump?

When she testified at the January 2022 trial of her lawyer, Michael Avenetti, for stealing advance proceeds from her memoir “Full Disclosure,” Daniels pushed back on descriptions of her rendezvous with Trump at the charity golf tournament as an “affair.”

“Because it was not romantic,” she said. “I don’t consider getting cornered coming out of a bathroom to be an affair.”

The adult film star and author’s book made quite the splash, in which she likened the then-president’s penis to a “toadstool” with “Yeti pubes” and the “mushroom character in Mario Kart.”

Could Trump go to prison?

The charges could land Trump in prison for up to four years.

That said, it’s unlikely Trump would serve time as a first-time, nonviolent offender, should he be convicted.

What happens if Trump loses the case and wins the election?


He can be found guilty and still serve as president, but he won’t be able to pardon himself of state charges.

The trial heavily interferes with Trump’s campaign plans, and a criminal conviction could impact how some voters view him as a candidate before they head to the ballot box.

The presumed GOP nominee is also facing three other criminal cases, but it’s unclear whether any will make it to trial before Nov. 8. In Washington, D.C., and Georgia, Trump is accused of election interference, and in Florida, he’s been indicted for hoarding highly sensitive classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and his New Jersey golf course. He’s pleaded not guilty to all charges.