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Trump faces his 1st criminal trial. Here are the witnesses the prosecution is likely to call

For the first time ever, a former U.S. president is facing a criminal trial, with jury selection set to begin Monday in The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump.

The long and winding road to trial is an outgrowth of revelations first made public in January 2018 by the Wall Street Journal — namely, that Trump’s lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen, arranged a $130,000 US payment to buy the silence of a porn star.

WATCH l Explaining Trump’s 4 separate criminal indictments:

Trump’s indictments explained: Why Georgia is charging him like a ‘Mob boss’ | About That

Former U.S. president Donald Trump is facing criminal charges for the fourth time, after a Georgia grand jury issued a sweeping indictment accusing him of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden and of running a ‘criminal enterprise.’ Andrew Chang explains all of the charges, and why the latest are so significant.

Since the criminal indictment was filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg just over a year ago, there has been a vigorous debate among legal experts about the merits of the case, and whether it should be considered a hush money trial, an election interference trial or a fraud trial. Regardless, it will be history-making.

Officially, Trump faces 34 counts related to falsifying business records to hide hush money payments. He has characterized the prosecution as politically motivated, although Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards once faced a similar prosecution.

Here are some of the witnesses the prosecution may call. (Two caveats: It is not guaranteed that each and every one will take the stand to testify; and given the case involves business records, there could be revelatory testimony from people not on this list who are little known to the public.)

Michael Cohen

While Trump’s lawyer, Cohen is said to have been intensely involved in a series of conversations and dealings concerning three people who claimed to have knowledge of extramarital affairs Trump engaged in while married to his current wife, Melania. Cohen also dealt extensively with the National Enquirer, which was aware of those affair allegations.

Cohen is said to have used his own money to make one of the hush money payments, the reimbursement of which is at the crux of this case.

WATCH l Cohen expounds on hush money payments, other Trump matters (from 2019):

Cohen takes aim at president in testimony, calls Trump a “con man”

In testimony over the course of seven hours, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, characterized his former boss as a “racist,” a “con man” and a “cheat.” But he also said he had no “direct evidence” that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, the primary question of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Former Manhattan assistant district attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo called Cohen a “flawed witness” who “you have to 100 per cent corroborate, because he looks like he has a revenge motive,” in conversation with CBC News last year.

Not only was Cohen imprisoned for crimes related to some of the allegations related to this Trump case, he also pleaded guilty to tax crimes related to his own enterprises that had nothing to do with his former boss.

Those facts, combined with Cohen having written two books since his split from Trump, give the defence plenty of opportunities to probe for inconsistencies and contradictions. Given Cohen’s passionate speaking style, there could be some antagonistic exchanges when he’s cross-examined, as seen in his previous congressional testimony.

Stephanie Clifford

More commonly known by her screen and stage name Stormy Daniels, Clifford could be referred to by her given name in proceedings. While she wasn’t the first woman to receive a hush money payout (see below), her payment was of critically more importance.

That’s because it was negotiated in the frantic days after the release of an Access Hollywood tape late in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, a tape that threatened to sink Trump’s hopes of victory. In that recording, which can be described at trial but will not be played, Trump seems to brag about committing sexual assault in general terms.

A woman with blonde hair several inches past her shoulder is shown in closeup.
Stephanie Clifford, the adult film performer known as Stormy Daniels, is shown at an event in Berlin, Germany, on Oct. 11, 2018. (Markus Schreiber/The Associated Press)

Clifford — who has alleged a single sexual encounter with Trump, in 2006 — has detailed being in fear for her life after her name was made public. But since then, she’s provided a lot of on-the-record statements in the form of interviews, a book and a new documentary.

Read the statement of facts from the Manhattan prosecutors:

Karen McDougal

The trial has sometimes been referred to as Trump’s “Stormy Daniels case,” a curious oversight in the post #MeToo era. A former Playboy Playmate of the Year, McDougal alleges she had an ongoing dalliance with Trump, with dozens of intimate encounters.

According to prosecutors, McDougal received a $150,000 payout in exchange for a couple of favourable stories in the Enquirer, but also an agreement she wouldn’t publicize her relationship with Trump.

A woman wearing a sleeveless top poses for what appears to be a red carpet photo.
Karen McDougal is shown on Feb. 6, 2010, at an event in Miami Beach, Fla. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Playboy)

McDougal told CNN in 2018 that she was a “diehard Republican.”

“I did not want to damage him or hurt [Trump] in any way, shape or form, but I also didn’t want to put out the story because I didn’t want my reputation to be damaged.”

Trump has denied affairs with both women and says he was trying to make untrue allegations go away. Prosecutors say in their statement of facts that he is heard on an audio recording they possess making clear his knowledge of the McDougal payout, at minimum.

David Pecker

Pecker was CEO of American Media Inc., publishers of the National Enquirer, until 2020. His relationship with Trump extends decades; he once helped publish a 1990s glossy called Trump Style.

AMI has previously admitted, as part of a non-prosecution agreement with federal investigators, that it made payments to “not publicize damaging allegations” concerning Trump during his first presidential campaign of 2015-2016. In the parlance of tabloid journalism, the publication engaged in a “catch-and-kill” scheme.

A mustached man in a suit holds a microphone in front of a darkened background.
David Pecker, former chairman and CEO of American Media, is shown in a 2014 file photo. (Marion Curtis/The Associated Press)

In contrast to the relative absence of negative Trump coverage in its pages during the contentious 2016 campaign, the Enquirer hinted that the father of Republican rival Ted Cruz was part of a JFK assassination conspiracy, and that Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton had suffered two strokes and had only months left to live, among many negative cover stories regarding other candidates.

In 2021, the Enquirer’s parent company agreed to pay nearly $200,000 in fines as part of a Federal Election Commission probe. The FEC said the payment to McDougal was “an-kind contribution” to the Trump campaign.

Dylan Howard

Howard, Enquirer editor-in-chief at the time, was tasked with executing what Pecker approved regarding Trump coverage.

Previously released court documents seem to portray a frantic bid to beat the competition concerning Clifford after the Access Hollywood video dropped.

A bespectacled clean-shaven man wearing a suit and tie poses with hands in his pockets in an office setting.
Dylan Howard, editor-in-chief of the National Enquirer until 2020, is shown on April 7, 2016, in New York City. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

“I”m told they’re going with Daily Mail,” Howard wrote in a text to Cohen on Oct. 17, 2016, referring to the British tabloid. “Are you aware?” The pair then quickly got on the phone, according to an Associated Press report on those court documents.

In recent days, a former Enquirer writer detailed in the New York Times working for Howard during the first Trump campaign. In the first-person account, journalist Lachlan Cartwright sheds more light on the third payout — a $30,000 sum to Trump Tower doorman Dino Sajudin, whose information ultimately proved unreliable.

Hope Hicks

Hicks is one of the few people to work the entire duration of the Trump administration, in a variety of roles. Prior to that, she worked in communications on his first presidential campaign.

It would be far from her first rodeo having to recall details to questioners.

A woman wearing a blazer, a turtleneck and with brown hair several inches past her shoulder is shown in closeup in a still taken from a video recording.
This exhibit from video released by a U.S. House committee on Dec. 19, 2022, shows Hope Hicks, who has sat for interviews with investigators on several occasions concerning Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency. (House Select Committee/The Associated Press)

She spoke to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team looking into Russian contacts with the Trump campaign during the 2016 campaign, and on similar topics with the Republican-led Senate investigation that resulted. She also sat for the Democrat-led House committee examining the events up to and surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

It was reported this past winter that Hicks and another Trump surrogate, Kellyanne Conway, had spoken to Bragg’s team. Though Hicks once confessed to telling “white lies” to questioners, she may help bolster accounts of conversations and activities involving the more problematic Cohen.

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