Trump hush money trial: Everything to know about the historic case

Former President Donald Trump arrived Monday at Manhattan Criminal Courthouse in NYC for the start of jury selection in his hush money trial, marking a historic moment as the presumptive nominee for this year's Republican presidential ticket answers to criminal charges.

It’s the first criminal trial of any former U.S. commander-in-chief and the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial. Scores of people are expected to be called into the courtroom to begin the process of finding 12 jurors, plus six alternates. Trump’s notoriety would make the process a near-herculean task in any year, but it’s likely to be especially challenging now.

Trump appears in court on Monday, April 15. (Sketch by Jane Rosenberg)

From the charges, to how jury selection will work, here's everything to know about the criminal case:

Why is Trump on trial?

The former president is accused of falsifying internal Trump Organization records as part of a scheme to bury damaging stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign, particularly as Trump’s reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.

Former President Donald Trump at Manhattan criminal court in New York, US, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The allegations focus on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock. Trump says none of these supposed sexual encounters occurred.

Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000 in a journalistically dubious practice known as "catch-and-kill" in which a publication pays for exclusive rights to someone’s story with no intention of publishing it, either as a favor to a celebrity subject or to gain leverage over the person.

Stormy Daniels attends the Los Angeles Premiere Of Neons "Pleasure" at Linwood Dunn Theater on May 11, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)

Prosecutors say Trump’s company reimbursed Cohen and paid him bonuses and extra payments, all of which were falsely logged in Trump Organization records as legal expenses. Cohen has separately pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments.

Is Trump trial televised?

TV cameras won’t be in the courtroom to capture the trial.

Judge Juan M. Merchan has denied news organizations’ push to televise the proceedings, though he will briefly allow still photographers in the courtroom. New York is among the most restrictive states when it comes to electronic broadcasting of court proceedings, a nonprofit group found in 2022.

Merchan allowed TV cameras in the hallway outside the courtroom.

What are the charges against Trump?

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The charge carries up to four years in prison, though whether he will spend time behind bars if convicted would ultimately be up to the judge.

Former US president Donald Trump on the 4th hole at Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, Co. Clare, during his visit to Ireland. (Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)

To win on the felony charge, prosecutors must show that Trump not only falsified or caused business records to be entered falsely — which would be a misdemeanor — but that he did so with intent to commit or conceal a second crime.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg did not specify the other crime in Trump’s indictment, but has since said that evidence shows his actions were meant to conceal state and federal campaign finance and tax crimes. Some experts argue it’s an unusual legal strategy that could backfire.

How will jury selection work?

The process to choose 12 jurors, plus six alternates, will begin with Judge Merchan bringing scores of people into his courtroom to begin weeding out people for potential biases or other reasons they cannot serve. 

The judge has said he will excuse anyone who indicates by a show of hands that they can’t serve or can’t be fair and impartial before calling groups of those who remain into the jury box to answer 42 questions.

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court for a hearing in his case of paying hush money to cover up extramarital affairs in New York City on February 15, 2024. Trump is in court ahead of a trial for illegally covering up hush money payments made to hide extramarital affairs, including with porn star Stormy Daniels. The hearing will see Trumps legal team attempt to have the case thrown out. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court for a hearing in his case of paying hush money to cover up extramarital affairs in New York City on February 15, 2024. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty

Who can sit on the jury?

The jury will be made up only of people who live in Manhattan. All English-speaking, U.S. citizens over age 18 who have not been convicted of a felony are eligible for jury duty in New York. 

Court officials identify potential jurors from lists of registered voters, taxpayers, driver’s license holders, public benefit recipients and other sources.

The Manhattan Criminal Courthouse in New York, US, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The pool of potential jurors for Trump’s trial will have been chosen at random. People can volunteer for jury duty, but they can’t pick what trial they serve on.

What if a juror doesn’t want to serve?

Jury duty is compulsory, but you can get excused for a variety of reasons, including financial or medical hardship.

What questions will jurors be asked?

The judge won’t allow the lawyers to ask whether potential jurors are Democrats or Republicans, whom they voted for or whether they have given money to any political causes. But there are multiple questions aimed at rooting out whether people are likely to be biased against, or in favor of, Trump.

Among them:

  • "Do you have any political, moral, intellectual, or religious beliefs or opinions which might prevent you from following the court’s instructions on the law or which might slant your approach to this case?"
  • "Have you, a relative, or a close friend ever worked or volunteered for a Trump presidential campaign, the Trump presidential administration, or any other political entity affiliated with Mr. Trump?"
  • "Have you ever attended a rally or campaign event for Donald Trump?"
  • "Do you currently follow Donald Trump on any social media site or have you done so in the past?"
  • "Have you, a relative, or a close friend ever worked or volunteered for any anti-Trump group or organization?"
  • "Have you ever attended a rally or campaign event for any anti-Trump group or organization?"
  • "Do you currently follow any anti-Trump group or organization on any social media site, or have you done so in the past?"
  • "Have you ever considered yourself a supporter of or belonged to any of the following: The QAnon movement, Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, Three Percenters, Boogaloo Boys, Antifa."
  • Jurors will be asked what podcasts and talk radio programs they listen to and where they get their news.

Will the public learn the identities of the jurors?

The judge has ordered that the jurors’ names be kept secret, an unusual but not unprecedented step in trials where there is a potential that jurors might wind up being harassed or threatened during or after the trial. 

There is nothing to stop jurors from voluntarily talking about their experiences after the trial is over. While it is pending, they aren’t supposed to talk about it to anyone.

What will this jury decide?

Jurors in the trial will listen to testimony and decide whether Trump is guilty of any of 34 counts of falsifying business records. Their decision to convict or acquit must be unanimous. If they cannot agree on a verdict, the judge can declare a mistrial. 

If jurors have a reasonable doubt that Trump is guilty, they must acquit him. If they convict him, the judge will be the one who decides the sentence, not the jurors.

Former President Donald Trump, center, at Manhattan criminal court in New York, US, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Who's expected to testify?

Cohen is expected to be a key prosecution witness, as he was the one who orchestrated the payoffs. Before testifying in front of the grand jury that brought the indictment last year, Cohen said his goal was "to tell the truth" and insisted he is not seeking revenge but said Trump "needs to be held accountable for his dirty deeds." 

Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal charges, including campaign finance violations, for arranging the payouts to Daniels and McDougal.

Other expected witnesses include Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Daniels alleges that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 that she didn’t want, but didn’t say no to. Trump says it never happened.

What will Trump's defense be?

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has slammed the case as an effort to hurt his 2024 presidential campaign. Trump has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for the payment and that it was designed to stop Daniels from going public about the alleged encounter. But Trump said in 2018 it had nothing to do with the campaign.

Trump’s lawyers will likely attack the case by trying to undermine the credibility of prosecution witnesses like Cohen and Daniels. Trump has described the two as liars, testing the limits of a gag order that the judge imposed. It seeks to curtail the president’s inflammatory rhetoric about the case. Trump’s lawyers are expected to paint Cohen as a con man and point to his conviction on multiple federal crimes as well as his disbarment to try to persuade jurors that he can’t be believed.

Trump recently posted on social media a picture of a 2018 written statement from Daniels, in which she denied they had a sexual relationship. Not long after, Daniels recanted the statement and said that a sexual encounter had occurred. She said her denials were due to a non-disclosure agreement and that she signed the statement because the parties involved "made it sound like I had no choice."

What about Trump's other cases?

Trump’s three other criminal cases have gotten bogged down in legal fights and appeals, which may mean jurors won’t hear about them before the November election.

The 2020 election interference case brought by special counsel Jack Smith remains on hold while Trump pursues his claim that he is immune from prosecution for actions he took while in the White House. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the matter in late April.

The other case brought by Smith accuses Trump of illegally retaining classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. The trial had been scheduled to begin in May, but the judge heard arguments last month to set a new trial date and has yet to do so.

No trial date has been set in the Georgia case accusing Trump and his allies of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. Prosecutors have suggested a trial date of August, but defense attorneys are now urging an appeals court to consider whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from the prosecution over a romantic relationship she had with a former top prosecutor who recently withdrew from the case.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all three cases and says he did nothing wrong.

The Associated Press wire services helped contribute to this report.