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Trump faces cloud of criminal charges as trial opens, ahead of election

The historic trial of Donald Trump started on Monday, making him the first former President in US history to face a criminal case, throwing several questions over the November elections. In a trial watched with interest around the world, Trump faces the possibility of criminal conviction and a prison term on charges of falsifying business records of his company to hide hush money payments to a porn actor.

Besides the cloud of conviction, the ability of Republican Trump, who has a slender lead in polls over Democrat President Joe Biden, to campaign will be seriously crimped by tying him down in the Manhattan courtroom four days a week over more than a month with less than seven months before the election. Even if he is convicted, he may not be disqualified from running in the presidential election and being elected because the Constitution is silent on criminal conviction.

The Manhattan case will likely be the only criminal case to come to trial before the election as the other case alleging election interference in Georgia that appeared to be on a fast track has run aground because of allegations that the prosecutor had hired a boyfriend at a cost of $650,000 to taxpayers to help prosecute Trump creating a conflict of interest. The federal criminal case against him alleging election interference as a fallout of the January 6, 2021 riots when his supporters broke into the Capitol to stop Congress from ratifying his election is also pending.

Before entering the courtroom, Trump said: “This is political persecution, this is a persecution like never before, nobody has ever seen anything like it.” Prosecutors have said that the prosecution only shows that in a democracy, no one is above the law. Outside, people supporting him and opposing him rallied with signs and shouts as he arrived in a sports utility vehicle with personal Secret Service guards, a privilege he gets as a former President.

Inside the courtroom, Trump sat at a table with his lawyers as they made a last-minute futile attempt to delay the trial by asking Judge Juan Merchan to recuse himself alleging he was biased. Merchan, with whom Trump has had several skirmishes and was slapped with a gag order, turned down the demand and proceeded with the trial. Manhattan Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass began recounting the case against Trump which has 34 charges.

The beginning phase of the trial under state procedures is the selection of 12 jurors – ordinary citizens who will make up the panel that will give the verdict – is set to begin. The prosecutors and the defense lawyers will closely examine the potential jurors looking for biases that could hurt their case and try to stop those they consider biased from sitting on the jury. Manhattan is heavily Democratic so most potential jurors will be of that persuasion and the defense will try to winnow them down.

The case brought by Manhattan Public Prosecutor Alvin Bragg, a Democrat elected to the position, centers on $130,000 that was paid to porn star Stormy Daniels through his former lawyer Michael Cohen during the 2016 election campaign to silence her and avoid another sex scandal. The prosecution alleges that the payments were camouflaged as corporate legal expenses, a violation of state law that would make it a crime. Trump is also ensnared in civil cases.

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