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What the Donald Trump hush money trial is really all about

Is it a hush money case? An election interference case? Some combination? Something else? Here’s how Judge Juan Merchan will describe it to prospective jurors.


It’s been called the hush money case, but Donald Trump isn’t charged with paying hush money. It’s been called an election interference case, but that might not fully explain it, either.

A more precise, if less concise, way to describe the case is that it’s about allegedly covering up a hush money scheme — or, allegedly covering up 2016 election interference.

Jury selection starts today, and here’s how Judge Juan Merchan will summarize the case for prospective jurors:

The allegations are in substance, that Donald Trump falsified business records to conceal an agreement with others to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, it is alleged that Donald Trump made or caused false business records to hide the true nature of payments made to Michael Cohen, by characterizing them as payment for legal services rendered pursuant to a retainer agreement. The People allege that in fact, the payments were intended to reimburse Michael Cohen for money he paid to Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, in the weeks before the presidential election to prevent her from publicly revealing details about a past sexual encounter with Donald Trump.

Based on those allegations, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. The former president has pleaded not guilty and denies the allegations, as he has done in his other three pending criminal cases.

So, technically, it’s a falsifying business records case. Of course, that doesn’t have the same ring to it as hush money or election interference. Perhaps more importantly, that dry description doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.

Ultimately, people are free to call the case what they want. What’s clear is that People v. Trump, the first criminal trial against a former U.S. president, is historic.

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