CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Here are the key players in Trump’s hush money trial

Apr 21, 2024, 7:00 PM | Updated: Apr 25, 2024, 10:09 am

This composite image shows former President Donald Trump (center), Stormy Daniels (top left), Micha...

This composite image shows former President Donald Trump (center), Stormy Daniels (top left), Michael Cohen (middle left), David Pecker (bottom left), Hope Hicks (top right), Alvin Bragg (middle right) and Judge Juan Merchan (bottom right). (Getty Images/AP via CNN Newsource)

(Getty Images/AP via CNN Newsource)

Originally Published: 15 APR 24 07:00 ET
Updated: 21 APR 24 20:26 ET

(CNN) — Opening statements in Donald Trump’s criminal New York hush money trial are set to begin Monday, more than a year after the former president was indicted in the case.

The trial, which made its way swiftly through jury selection last week, is expected to feature several high-profile witnesses, including those who were in Trump’s inner circle around the 2016 election, sources have told CNN.

Here are the notable people in this case:

Donald Trump

The former president has been accused of taking part in an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election and an unlawful plan to suppress negative information, which included a hush money payment made to an adult-film star to hide an affair. Trump has denied the affair.

Prosecutors allege that Trump allegedly disguised the transaction as a legal payment and falsified business records numerous times to “promote his candidacy.”

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records. He has pleaded not guilty.

Stormy Daniels

Adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, received a $130,000 payment just days before the 2016 presidential election.

She shared in a documentary released last month that she accepted the payment to keep her one-night stand with Trump in 2006 from becoming public to protect her husband and daughter.

Trump’s attorneys subsequently used the documentary’s release to try to bar Daniels from testifying and argued that it should be grounds to dismiss the indictment or delay the trial — both unsuccessful challenges, though the judge did delay the trial on separate grounds.

Michael Cohen

The $130,000 payment to Daniels was made by Michael Cohen, then Trump’s personal attorney, who landed in federal prison over that transaction for breaking campaign finance laws. Cohen, now a critical witness, has said that Trump directed him to make the payment to Daniels.

Trump and his legal team attempted to bar Cohen from testifying, arguing that he’s committed perjury more than once in other cases, but the request was denied last month.

David Pecker

As the then-chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the National Enquirer, David Pecker was involved in numerous “catch-and-kill” schemes he orchestrated on behalf of Trump, and he allegedly helped broker the deal with Daniels.

According to court documents, an agent for Daniels contacted AMI in October 2016 and said she was willing to go public with her allegations of an affair with Trump. Pecker then allegedly contacted Cohen, who subsequently negotiated the deal, per court filings from Cohen’s plea agreement.

In a separate incident, AMI agreed to pay model and actress Karen McDougal $150,000 months before the 2016 election for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump. While this payment is not part of the charges against the former president, prosecutors are expected to use it to establish a pattern of such payments.

Pecker has been granted immunity in exchange for his testimony and AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with prosecutors.

Hope Hicks

The day after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump can be heard making vulgar comments about his treatment of women, Hope Hicks, who then served as Trump’s campaign press secretary, called Cohen, according to court documents, to suppress additional allegations of a sexual nature from becoming public.

From there, Cohen, acting as a middleman, was involved in at least 10 telephone calls that day, some involving Trump and Hicks and others involving Pecker and another AMI executive.

CNN has previously reported that Hicks is expected to be called to testify, according to a source familiar with the case.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

As the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg led the investigation into the former president’s involvement in the hush money payment — a yearslong probe he inherited from his predecessor, who began the investigation when Trump was still in the White House.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Bragg, attempting to cast the investigation as politically motivated. After the second day of jury selection last week, the former president used a stop at a Harlem bodega to criticize Bragg, claiming the district attorney was focusing on the hush money investigation instead of prosecuting violent crime — talking points Bragg’s office dismissed.

Judge Juan Merchan

New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan, who is known for maintaining control of his courtroom even when his cases draw considerable attention, is presiding over the case.

He has been involved in other cases related to Trump and his allies, including the Trump Organization tax fraud trial, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s criminal fraud case, and the sentencing of Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer.

Merchan has kept the trial moving quickly — to Trump’s dismay — as he sifted through roughly 200 prospective jurors to swear in 12 jurors and six alternates in a process that some thought would go beyond the trial’s first week. The judge has also looked to keep a strong grip on the trial, scolding the press last week for reporting information that could potentially identify jurors.

Trump has made two requests for Merchan to be recused from the case, while leveling attacks against the judge and his daughter over her political work for Democratic politicians. Merchan rejected the first motion last year. A separate emergency relief request by Trump to stop the trial so he could appeal a lower court’s ruling on presidential immunity and have the judge recused was rejected earlier this month.

Merchan has also imposed a gag order on the former president, barring him from making statements about witnesses, jurors, prosecutors, court staff or the family members of prosecutors and court staff.

This story has been updated with additional information.

Sydney Kashiwagi and CNN’s Devan Cole, Kara Scannell, Lauren del Valle, Jeremy Herb, Marshall Cohen and Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.

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Here are the key players in Trump’s hush money trial