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Trump Trial: Prosecutors and Attorneys Deliver Opening Statements


Prosecutors and Donald Trump’s attorneys delivered opening statements and the first witness was called on April 22 in the historic and unprecedented criminal trial of a former president.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple,” a lawyer told the jury during opening statements at the historic trial in New York.

Setting out the case for the defense, Donald Trump’s lawyer said his client had committed no crimes and that it was not illegal to try to influence an election.

“He is cloaked in innocence,” he added.

Donald Trump is accused of trying to cover up a $130,000 payment to adult movie star Stormy Daniels before he won the race for the White House back in 2016.

He has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records and also denies having an alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

At the start of the second week of the criminal trial in Manhattan – the first ever of a former US president – each side set out the case they will present to the jury. The first witness, tabloid publisher David Pecker, also took the stand briefly and will continue his testimony on April 23.

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Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the court that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer and confidant, worked with the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, to “cook the books” at Trump’s direction.

Prosecutors alleged that the scheme to disguise how Michael Cohen was reimbursed for the payment to Stormy Daniels involved falsifying three forms of records – invoices, ledger entries and cheques.

Donald Trump said in his business records that those payments were “for legal services pursuant to a retainer agreement” with Michael Cohen, Matthew Colangelo told the jury.

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Critically for this case, he said that Donald Trump was motivated to provide the payoff so voters did not learn of the alleged encounter with Stormy Daniels.

Prosecutors said that this cover-up should be considered election interference, which constituted a second crime. That elevated the charge of falsifying business records from a lower-level misdemeanour into a more serious felony.

They claimed the infamous Access Hollywood tape, which surfaced weeks before the 2016 election and showed Donald Trump bragging about being able to have sex with anyone because he is famous, had panicked his campaign.

“The defendant and his campaign staff were deeply concerned that it would irreparably damage his standing with female voters in particular,” Matthew Colangelo told the court.

But when Stormy Daniels came forward a day later alleging an affair with Donald Trump, it compounded the problem created by the tape, Matthew Colangelo alleged.

The trial is expected to last about another six weeks, but legal experts say opening statements are particularly important as an opportunity to shape jurors’ views on the case.