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Prosecutors begin laying out case against Trump to jury

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Federal prosecutors on Monday began laying out what they say is election fraud in 2016 by former President Donald Trump.

Trump, 77, is the first former U.S. president to be charged with a felony. Prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their opening statements to the jury of five women and seven men.

Prosecutors said Trump corrupted the 2016 election, The Hill reported on Monday.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up,” Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said. “The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 election, then covered it up.”

Trump will spend four days a week in court in New York for the next six to eight weeks on state charges that he disguised hush money payments to two women as legal expenses during the 2016 election. Judge Juan Merchan has not scheduled trial days on Wednesdays.

On Monday, his defense attorneys said he had done nothing wrong.

“President Trump is innocent,” Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the jury. “He did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney’s office should never have brought this case.”

Trump pleaded not guilty in April 2023 to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Merchan’s gag order remains in place, ordered last month before the trial began. Trump, the nation’s 45th president, is prohibited from making or directing others to make public statements about witnesses concerning their potential participation or about counsel in the case or about court staff, district attorney staff or family members of staff.

Prosecutors said Trump’s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels was falsely covered up as a business expense, that the money was to help keep her quiet. Prosecutors say they had a sexual encounter.

Prosecutors also said Trump paid Karen McDougal, a Playboy magazine “Playmate,” and reimbursed then attorney and fixer Michael Cohen to cover it up.

“This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior,” Colangelo said. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

Reuters reported that Blanche countered that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg should have never brought the case to trial.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election” Blanche said. “It’s called democracy. They put something sinister on this idea, as if it’s a crime.”

Prosecutors say Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), McDougal ($150,000), and Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors say the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements. In a reversal of past close relationships now pivotal to the prosecution against him, both Cohen and Daniels are expected to testify.

Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to return to the White House. He’s facing the Democratic incumbent who ousted him in 2020, 81-year-old President Joe Biden.

Trump faces 88 felony charges spread across four cases in Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington.Trump has said the criminal and civil trials he faces are designed to keep him from winning the 2024 rematch versus Biden.