Updated Feb 15, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Key players in the Trump New York hush-money case

Former President Trump departing after speaking at a campaign rally in Waco, TX. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Former President Trump's first criminal trial in the heat of an election year will stem from the first, historic indictment against him over a 2016 illegal hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The big picture: Trump, the GOP presidential frontrunner, has used the four criminal cases where he faces charges to rally voters as he campaigns for another term.

  • Jury selection in the hush-money trial is scheduled to begin March 25.

Here are the key players in the case:

Donald Trump

Trump, the 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner, faces 91 criminal charges in four separate jurisdictions. He denies any wrongdoing.

  • He was a candidate during the 2016 presidential election when he allegedly okayed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to send a hush-money payment to Daniels — money that was recorded as legal expenses.

Alvin Bragg

Alvin Bragg, the first Black Manhattan District Attorney, inherited the years-long investigation when he took office in 2022.

Judge Juan Merchan

Acting N.Y. Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan has handled several high-profile prosecutions, including some involving Trump's inner circle.

  • Merchan oversaw the criminal tax fraud case against the Trump Organization, in which a jury found two companies from the organization guilty on 17 counts and, in a separate case, sentenced the firm's finance chief to five months in jail and five years of probation for tax fraud.
  • Merchan, who served as an acting justice on the State Supreme Court since 2009, previously told Trump Organization attorneys that he will not tolerate arguments that prosecutors are pursuing the case due to disdain for the former president.

Of note: Merchan declined to recuse himself from the case last August after Trump's lawyers requested he do so amid allegations of bias.

Michael Cohen

A key witness is Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who alleges the former president directed him to pay $130,000 in hush money to Daniels to keep her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump. The former president denies both claims.

  • In 2018, after the hush-money payment to Daniels emerged, Cohen initially said he paid with his own money and that neither the Trump campaign nor the Trump Organization reimbursed him.
  • Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges and received a three-year prison sentence related in part to the payment to Daniels.
  • He testified last year before the grand jury that voted to indict Trump.

Trump's attorneys

Todd Blanche, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, was brought on as Trump's lead counsel in the case, a campaign official previously confirmed to Axios.

  • Blanche attempted to push back against the March 25 start date during a hearing on Feb. 15, arguing that it would be tantamount to election interference, the New York Times reported. His argument was rejected.
  • Blanche previously represented Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort as well as Igor Fruman, a Rudy Giuliani associate who pleaded guilty in a campaign finance case brought by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office.
  • He was most recently a partner at the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Trump is also represented in the case by Susan Necheles.

Stormy Daniels

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, says she was paid by Cohen before the 2016 presidential election to stay silent about her alleged affair with Trump.

Karen McDougal

McDougal, a former Playboy model, is believed to be the second woman to receive a hush money payment over an alleged affair with Trump.

  • McDougal is believed to have been paid $150,000 by American Media Inc., the owner of the National Enquirer, for the rights to a story about the affair in order to "catch and kill" the story.
  • McDougal filed a lawsuit in 2018 against AMI in an effort to get out of the legal agreement that required her to stay quiet about the affair, which McDougal claimed took place in 2006. They subsequently reached a settlement agreement.

David Pecker

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment's statement of facts that Pecker, the former CEO of AMI, met with Trump in 2015 and agreed to help his campaign, vowing to look out for negative stories about Trump and to publish negative stories about his competitors.

  • Pecker was allegedly involved in some of the "catch and kill" payments outlined by prosecutors.
  • Prosecutors also alleged that Trump invited Pecker to dinner at the White House in the summer of 2017 to "thank him for his help during the campaign."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional developments.

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