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Opening Statements in Trump's Trial Are Expected Today

Now that a jury of twelve (seven men and five women), plus six alternates, has been chosen, Donald Trump's "hush money" trial starts in earnest today. The trial is not really about "hush money" at all. If Trump had paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket to buy her silence, it would have been perfectly legal. But he didn't. He used company money and then covered it up by falsifying company records to show the payment as "legal services rendered" to his go-between, Michael Cohen. Falsifying business records is a crime in New York. What Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg has to prove to the jury is that Trump caused the records to be falsified, and that he did it for political purposes. It is not necessary that Trump actually typed "For services rendered" into the computer himself. If he instructed someone else to do it, that is enough. Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass will tell the jury: "If a man hires a mobster to murder his wife, he is as guilty as the man who pulled the trigger."

Unlike in his civil trials, Trump actually hired two top-rate attorneys, Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles. Blanche used to be a federal prosecutor—and he worked with none other than Alvin Bragg. He then worked for New York's oldest law firm, Cadwalader, Wickersham, & Taft, before leaving to start his own law firm. Necheles, a graduate of Yale Law School, is a highly experienced New York defense attorney and has her own firm. She has represented politicians, real estate developers, and mobster "Benny Eggs." Judge Juan Merchan has repeatedly become frustrated with Blanche, so it wouldn't be surprising if at some point Necheles said to Blanche: "The judge really dislikes you; I'd better take over now."

Bragg has a lot going for him. The crime (cooking the books) is easy to understand, the motive is plain as day, there are multiple insider witnesses who will testify, hard evidence (including canceled checks) abounds, and the jury pool is about as good as any prosecutor dare dream about. Nevertheless, there are a few weak spots where the prosecution can be attacked. Here they are:

In an interview a few weeks ago, Cohen said that there will be some surprises during the trial, but he refused to elaborate further as to what they might be. In 6-8 weeks, we should know.

Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) took advantage of the trial to do a bit of campaigning yesterday—for vice president. On CNN's State of the Union, she called the trial ridiculous and said: "It's the way that Democrats are fighting these days, using the judicial system and activist judges to do so." Score three brownie points for the governor. She really, really wants to get out of South Dakota. (V)

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