Will a mountain of evidence be enough to convict Trump?

Will a mountain of evidence be enough to convict Trump?

The New York Times reports:

In the official record, the case is known as the People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump, and, for now, the people have the stronger hand: They have insider witnesses, a favorable jury pool and a lurid set of facts about a presidential candidate, a payoff and a porn star.

On Monday, the prosecutors will formally introduce the case to 12 all-important jurors, embarking on the first prosecution of an American president. The trial, which could brand Mr. Trump a felon as he mounts another White House run, will reverberate throughout the nation and test the durability of the justice system that Mr. Trump is attacking in a way that no other defendant would be allowed to do.

Though the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, has assembled a mountain of evidence, a conviction is hardly assured. Over the next six weeks, Mr. Trump’s lawyers will seize on three apparent weak points: a key witness’s credibility, a president’s culpability and the case’s legal complexity.

Prosecutors will seek to maneuver around those vulnerabilities, dazzling the jury with a tale that mixes politics and sex, as they confront a shrewd defendant with a decades-long track record of skirting legal consequences. They will also seek to bolster the credibility of that key witness, Michael D. Cohen, a former fixer to Mr. Trump who previously pleaded guilty to federal crimes for paying the porn star, Stormy Daniels.

Daniel J. Horwitz, a veteran defense lawyer who previously worked in the Manhattan district attorney’s office prosecuting white-collar cases, said prosecutors can be expected to corroborate Mr. Cohen’s story wherever possible.

“The prosecution has layers upon layers of evidence to back up what Michael Cohen says,” Mr. Horwitz said.

Both sides will lay out their cases in opening statements on Monday, offering dueling interpretations of the evidence some six years after the payoff to Ms. Daniels entered the public consciousness and briefly imperiled Mr. Trump’s presidency.

But in previewing the case for prospective jurors last week, Manhattan prosecutors emphasized neither the payoff that secured Ms. Daniels’s silence, nor the sex scandal that was buried in the process. One prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, instead distilled the trial’s stakes to a fundamental question: “This case is about the rule of law and whether or not Donald Trump broke it.”

What is Trump accused of? The charges trace back to a $130,000 hush-money payment that Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, made to the porn actress Stormy Daniels in 2016 to suppress her story of a sexual liaison with Trump in 2006. While serving as president, Trump reimbursed Cohen, and how he did so constituted fraud, prosecutors say.

Why did prosecutors cite other hush-money payments? Although the charges relate to the payment to Daniels, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, is expected to highlight two other hush-money deals. Prosecutors say that the deals show that Trump had orchestrated a wide-ranging scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Who will the key witnesses be? Cohen is expected to be a crucial witness for prosecutors. Bragg is also expected to call David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer, as well as Hope Hicks, a former Trump aide, to shed light on the tumultuous period surrounding the payments. Trump said he plans to testify in his own defense.

Who is the judge? Juan Merchan, the judge, is a veteran of the bench known as a no-nonsense, drama-averse jurist. During the trial, Justice Merchan will be in charge of keeping order in the courtroom and ruling on objections made by prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers. The jury will decide whether Trump is guilty.

What happens if Trump is convicted? The charges against Trump are all Class E felonies, the least severe felony category in New York. If convicted, Trump faces a prison sentence of four years or less, or he could receive probation.

How is The New York Times covering the trial? The Times will provide comprehensive coverage of the trial, which is set to last six to eight weeks. Expect live updates from the courtroom in Manhattan, daily takeaways, explainers and analysis from our reporting team.

Mr. Steinglass’s boss, Mr. Bragg, has offered a loftier interpretation, casting Mr. Trump’s actions as election interference. Although Mr. Trump’s lawyers might claim he was merely trying to hide embarrassing stories from his family, Mr. Bragg says Mr. Trump orchestrated a scheme to conceal simmering sex scandals from voters as they headed to the polls in 2016. All told, his allies struck three hush-money deals, paying off people who had stories to tell — stories that could have derailed Mr. Trump’s candidacy.

Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors will seek to turn that 2016 campaign strategy against him: The tactics that helped propel Mr. Trump to victory will be admitted as evidence and reconsidered far beyond the courtroom. Aides and friends who lied on Mr. Trump’s behalf will take the witness stand to testify against him.

They include: David Pecker, the tabloid publisher who bought and buried damaging stories about Mr. Trump; Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman who tried to spin reporters; and Mr. Cohen, the fixer who paid Ms. Daniels. Mr. Pecker, who ran the company that owned The National Enquirer, is set to go first, and is expected to recount for the jury several conversations with Mr. Trump about the hush money, according to a person familiar with the plan. [Continue reading…]

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