Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears with his legal team, Todd Blanche (L) and Emil Bove (R), at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 15, 2024.

(Photo: Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images)

Democracy Defenders Stress NY Trump Trial 'Is About Voter Deception'

"Trump engaged in criminal acts to cover up the truth just days before the 2016 election, and now he will finally face a jury of everyday Americans."

As former U.S. President Donald Trump's first of four potential criminal trials began in New York on Monday, progressive groups emphasized that what is often called a hush money case involving a porn star "is about voter deception."

Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate to face Democratic President Joe Biden in November, faces 88 felony charges across the four cases. For this one, he was indicted by a New York grand jury last spring with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to alleged hush money payments to cover up sex scandals during the 2016 election cycle.

The payments were made by Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer, to porn star Stormy Daniels, and by the tabloid The National Enquirer to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. The twice-impeached ex-president has pleaded not guilty.

"This case is about the allegation that Trump criminally hid information from voters to influence the outcome of the 2016 election," said Lisa Gilbert, executive vice president of the watchdog group Public Citizen, in a statement Monday.

"You can draw a clear pattern from this election interference behavior to his more emboldened efforts to subvert the 2020 election, which led to the January 6th insurrection, a lasting stain on American democracy," she added, referring to the 2021 U.S. Capitol attack that some critics argue makes him constitutionally ineligible to hold office again. "Accountability for criminal deception of voters is absolutely necessary to ensure future candidates and public officials know they can't get away with this sort of conduct."

Gilbert stressed that "despite what Donald Trump and his allies may claim, no one is above the law—including a former president charged with serious crimes, and today marks the start of the legal system's chance to prove this point."

Stand Up America president and founder Sean Eldridge similarly celebrated that "Donald Trump will finally face accountability for falsifying his company's business records in order to conceal damning information from voters ahead of the 2016 election."

"Concealing secret payments and then lying in official filings to cover it up is a serious crime, which is why Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts," Eldridge said. "This case is a clear example of Trump's pattern of engaging in criminal behavior to cling to power and hide the truth from the American people. No one is above the law in the United States of America, including former presidents."

"A functioning democracy depends on voters having the information they need to pick their leaders," he continued. "Trump engaged in criminal acts to cover up the truth just days before the 2016 election, and now he will finally face a jury of everyday Americans."

This is the first criminal trial of a former American president. Monday featured a series of rulings from Judge Juan Merchan—who has rejected Trump's demands that he step away from the case—and the beginning of jury selection.

The New York Timesreported that "the initial pool of prospective jurors dwindled rapidly. More than half of the first group of 96 were dismissed in short order after indicating that they did not believe they could be impartial. Court adjourned for the day roughly two hours after jury selection began, with zero jurors chosen."

In addition to the case in New York, Trump faces two federal cases—overseen by Special Counsel Jack Smith because of Trump's 2024 campaign. One is about his mishandling of classified material and the other stems from his attempt to reverse the 2020 election results. The Republican also faces a Georgia case for interfering with the last presidential contest.

It is not clear whether any of the other three cases will go to trial before the November election. Trump is trying to claim presidential immunity to get the federal election charges dismissed and the U.S. Supreme Court—to which he appointed three justices—is set to hear arguments in that case on April 25.

Public Citizen is among the groups that last week submitted briefs to the high court criticizing Trump's claims. The watchdog's president, Robert Weissman, said that "Trump's legal theory defies common sense and would enable an almost limitless tyranny. Nothing in the Constitution—which aims to prevent tyranny—supports Trump's theory."

This post has been updated with the former president's 88 charges, reduced from 91 in March.

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