Updated Apr 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

"Eyes and ears": National Enquirer painted as key campaign player at Trump trial

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears in court for opening statements in his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 22, 2024 in New York City.

Former President Trump appears in court for opening statements at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 22. Photo: Yuki Iwamura-Pool/Getty Images

Lawyers on both sides laid out their cases Monday during opening statements in former President Trump's New York hush money trial.

Why it matters: The opening statements set the stage for the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president, with prosecutors arguing that the 2016 payment at the center of the case was "election fraud, pure and simple."

  • Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree in connection with a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016.

Driving the news: Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo, delivering opening statements for the prosecution's side, argued that former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker was acting as "eyes and ears" for the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

  • Colangelo used the phrase multiples times to describe how Pecker used his media empire, America Media, to help Trump's campaign.
  • Prosecutors say Pecker helped carry out the "catch and kill" scheme to bury bad news about Trump.
  • Pecker briefly testified Monday and is expected to return to the stand on Tuesday.

The other side: Todd Blanche, the leading defense attorney, argued that the former president is "cloaked in innocence."

  • "Trump wanted to protect his reputation, his family and his brand. That is not a crime," Blanche said.
  • He also refuted Colangelo's characterization of the "catch and kill" scheme as a conspiracy.

The big picture: The opening statements came after jury selection concluded on Friday, when lawyers finished selecting the 12 jurors and six alternates who will hear the case.

  • Jury selection took four days, which was faster than some legal experts had predicted given the high-nature aspect of the case.
  • Seven men and five women, with varied age groups and backgrounds, were selected for the jury.

Zoom in: Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has repeatedly sought to delay proceedings.

  • A judge rejected Trump's effort Friday for an emergency stay in the case.
  • Trump, in brief comments before opening remarks began Monday, repeated his claims that the trial is a "witch hunt" and "election interference."

What to watch: The trial, expected to last about six to eight weeks, will likely include testimonies from members of Trump's inner circle during the 2016 presidential election.

  • Trump has said he plans to testify at the trial, although he is not required to do so.
  • Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the trial, scheduled a hearing Tuesday over prosectors' request to hold Trump in contempt for criticizing two potential witnesses in the case on social media.

Go deeper: The judge, the jury and sleepy Don: Trump's first week in criminal court

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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