Friday, May 24, 2024

Prosecutors push election angle in Trump ‘hush money’ case

(Al Jazeera Media Network) It is a blockbuster legal case, set to dominate headlines for weeks to come.

On Monday, Donald Trump has become the first United States president, past or present, to stand trial in a criminal case. Jury selection is under way this week.

The trial unfolding in New York centres on sensational allegations: that Trump made hush-money payments to an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, with whom he allegedly had an affair. He has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

But despite the tabloid-worthy details, legal experts say something more fundamental is at the heart of the trial: how American elections unfold — and how candidates should be held to account.

The hush-money payments allegedly happened against the backdrop of the 2016 presidential race, and prosecutors are expected to focus on whether efforts to conceal information could have influenced Trump’s victory in that election.

The more sordid details have nevertheless dominated public perception of the case, said Shanlon Wu, a former federal prosecutor and political commentator.

After all, Trump is accused of trying to buy Daniels’ silence over an affair that allegedly occurred while his wife Melania Trump was pregnant with their child Barron.

“It’s become shorthand to refer to this as the hush-money case or, worse, as the porn-star case,” Wu said.

But make no mistake, Wu said: The trial will have broad consequences, and its outcome may reflect on the three other criminal indictments Trump faces, particularly those that concern his behaviour during the 2020 election.

Prosecutors are set to argue that the hush-money payments were “part of a deliberate plan to help Trump’s 2016 election,” Wu explained.

A key pillar of that argument will be to establish Trump’s “willingness to circumvent normal rules and laws about how elections are done, in order to win.”

“That’s a really important point to make,” Wu added, calling the trial “a preview of his whole attitude towards the elections.”

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