Trump hush money trial: People to know

NEW YORK — Jurors heard from the first witness Monday in the historic criminal trial of former President Donald Trump, who is accused of illegally covering up hush money payments aimed at influencing the results of 2016 presidential election.

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Trump has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of first-degree falsifying business records.

Here are some of the key players to know:

Juan Merchan, New York state judge

A seasoned jurist, New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan has already dealt with other cases involving Trump, according to CNN. In 2023, he sentenced former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg for tax fraud and oversaw former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s fundraising fraud trial, the news network reported. In 2022, the judge oversaw the Trump Organization tax fraud trial.

He has twice rejected requests from Trump’s lawyers that he step down due to a perceived bias stemming from his daughter’s work running a political consulting firm that has worked for Democrats, according to The Associated Press.

Donald Trump, former president

Trump was a prominent New York City businessman and reality TV star before he won the 2016 presidential election. He served in the White House from 2017 until 2021 but lost a reelection bid to President Joe Biden in 2020. He is considered the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election.

Prosecutors say he falsified business records to hide payments made to reimburse his then-attorney for helping to bury negative stories about him ahead of the 2016 election.

David Pecker, former National Enquirer publisher

The first witness to take the stand Monday was former American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker, who was publisher of the National Enquirer during the 2016 election.

Pecker was a longtime friend of Trump’s and used his publications to support his election, The Wall Street Journal reported. Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said Monday that he conspired with Trump and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to “catch and kill” negative stories about Trump to aid him in the election. In court records, authorities said Pecker agreed to act as the “eyes and ears” of the Trump campaign and to publish negative stories about his competitors.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer

Once Trump’s longtime attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen is also considered a central player in the hush money scheme. A former Trump Organization vice president, Cohen was considered a staunch supporter of Trump before he turned on him and became one of his most vocal critics, Bloomberg reported. He is expected to be a star witness in Trump’s criminal trial.

In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges including a campaign finance violation related to payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both women claim to have had sexual encounters with Trump years before the 2016 election.

Stormy Daniels, adult film star

A $130,000 payment made by Cohen to buy the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels is at the heart of the case against Trump. Prosecutors said that Trump reimbursed Cohen with checks processed by the Trump Organization and labeled as being for legal services based on a retainer agreement. However, they said there was no actual agreement and no legal services rendered.

Daniels said that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, a claim Trump has strongly denied. He has attacked Daniels frequently since news of the hush money payment surfaced in 2018, The New York Times reported.

Karen McDougal, former Playboy model

Former Playboy model Karen McDougal claims to have had a nearly yearlong affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. American Media Inc. bought the rights to her story for $150,000 in 2016 but never published anything about it.

Trump has denied having an affair with McDougal.

Dino Sajudin, onetime Trump Tower doorman

American Media Inc. also bought the rights to a story being shopped by a former Trump Tower doorman, Dino Sajudin, ahead of the 2016 election, according to BBC News. Prosecutors said he was paid $30,000 for information about a child he claimed that Trump had out of wedlock.

American Media Inc. later determined that Sajudin’s story was not true, court records show.

Hope Hicks, former Trump administration official

Hope Hicks served in various roles in the Trump administration, becoming the youngest White House communications director in history at 28.

Prosecutors said she spoke with Trump as he scrambled to keep stories about his marital infidelity quiet following the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape before the 2016 election, the AP reported. In the tape, recorded on a hot mic in 2005, Trump could be heard bragging about grabbing women without their consent.

Alvin Bragg, Manhattan district attorney

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a former civil rights lawyer and law professor, inherited the Trump investigation when he took office in 2021, according to Bloomberg. He became the first prosecutor to bring criminal charges against Trump in March 2023 and has since been strongly criticized by the former president.

Matthew Colangelo, senior counsel to the district attorney

Matthew Colangelo worked as acting associate attorney general for the Justice Department before he was hired in 2022 to lead the Trump investigation, according to officials and the AP. He previously worked with Bragg on Trump-related matters at the New York attorney general’s office.

Joshua Steinglass, senior trial counsel

Joshua Steinglass is a longtime Manhattan prosecutor who helped lead the team that secured a tax fraud conviction against the Trump Organization in 2022, The New York Times reported. His cases often involve violent crimes, according to the newspaper.

Susan Hoffinger, chief of the Investigations Division

Susan Hoffinger began her career at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office before she founded her own firm, the Times reported. She spent 20 years in private practice with her sister before returning to the district attorney’s office in 2022, where she worked with Steinglass on the Trump Organization tax fraud case, according to the AP.

Todd Blanche, Trump lawyer

Todd Blanche left New York’s oldest law firm to start his own firm and represent Trump in 2021, according to The Washington Post. He is also representing Trump in federal cases in Florida and Washington, D.C.

Blanche formerly served as a federal prosecutor and was a colleague of Bragg’s, BBC News reported. He also represented Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in a mortgage fraud case, according to the AP.

Susan Necheles, Trump lawyer

Susan Necheles, a veteran criminal defense attorney, previously defended the Trump Organization in its 2022 tax fraud trial, CNN reported. She has also represented politicians, real estate developers and mobster “Benny Eggs,” according to the Post.

Emil Bove, Trump lawyer

Emil Bove is a former federal prosecutor who served as co-chief of the national security unit at the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, CNN reported. He is the newest addition to Trump’s trial team, according to the Times.

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