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Trump's historic New York hush money trial is finally (almost) here

Plus, a deadly loophole, an archaic abortion law and a very special morning routine in this week’s 3-Minute Read from Jen Psaki.
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New York state of mind

Donald Trump’s historic New York hush money trial begins on Monday. He will be the first former president ever to stand trial in a criminal case. MSNBC legal correspondent Lisa Rubin breaks down what we can expect:

What should we expect to see on Monday?

After covering three Trump civil trials in the last year (the two E. Jean Carroll trials and the New York attorney general’s fraud trial), the one thing I count on is that anything can happen. From further last-ditch efforts to delay the trial through state appeals courts or even the Supreme Court, to violations of the existing gag order, my only expectation is that something unexpected will go down. And remember: Judge Juan Merchan has warned that any violation of the gag order could result in a finding of criminal contempt, which is punishable by up to 30 days in jail.

But assuming we get to jury selection quickly and painlessly, you should first watch to see how many prospective jurors self-identify as unable to serve. Those folks will be automatically excused, according to the jury selection protocol Merchan implemented this week, without any questions. It will be fascinating to see whether prospective jurors flee for the exits or, as seemed to be the case in the second E. Jean Carroll trial in January, if many really want to participate.

What does jury selection then look like?

Prospective jurors will be sat in the jury box, 18 at a time, and they will read their answers to the 42-question jury questionnaire. What I’ll be most interested in is how both the prosecution and defense follow up with further questions — and both who and how quickly they try to strike specific prospective jurors. Under New York law, for the category of crime with which Trump has been charged, each side is entitled to challenge 10 jurors for unstated reasons. But they’re also entitled to unlimited challenges for cause, like when a potential juror’s answers suggest that they simply can’t or won’t be fair or impartial. Trump’s legal team continues to argue their client cannot get a fair trial in Manhattan, so watch for the defense to exercise challenges for cause early and often.

Michael Cohen is listed as a witness. What should we expect to hear from him?

Although some folks can’t wait for another Cohen/Trump courtroom showdown, my own view is that Cohen’s role in the case has been distorted.

The case doesn’t require the Manhattan district attorney to prove that Trump violated state or federal campaign finance law. Instead, he needs to prove that Trump made or caused others to falsify business records with the intent to commit or conceal another crime, which could be Cohen’s own, established violation of campaign finance law.

So the real focus will be on demonstrating that Trump knew about and understood the purpose of the arrangements with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels in real time, and thereafter conspired not only with Cohen, but also with others, like Allen Weisselberg, to ensure the reimbursements looked like ordinary, monthly payments for unspecified “legal services.”

And to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of 12 jurors, Cohen will serve as something of a tour guide; the person who can string the narrative together.

Yes, there are meetings and/or conversations between and among Cohen, Trump, and Weisselberg about the structure of the settlement and the repayment arrangement for which Cohen could be the only testifying witness. But at least one of those conversations was captured on tape. And in many other respects, Cohen’s account will be bolstered by that of others, like Jeff McConney and Deborah Tarasoff, who participated in creating the records at issue, or who, like Hope Hicks, might testify to their own conversations with Trump that reflect his knowledge and intent.

Most importantly, there are the records themselves — and nine of the checks bear Donald Trump’s own signature. And that’s the kind of evidence that no cross-examination of Michael Cohen can erase.

Closing the ‘gun-show loophole’

Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced its plan to eliminate the “gun show loophole” that allows guns to be sold without background checks outside of brick-and-mortar stores (gun shows, online sales, etc.).

According to the ATF, over 68,000 illegally trafficked guns were linked back to unlicensed dealers between 2017 and 2021. The Justice Department has estimated that 23,000 unlicensed firearms dealers will now have to complete criminal and mental health background checks.

This would be one of the largest expansions of federal background checks in decades and a huge step in the right direction toward safer gun laws in this country.

Someone you should know: Attorney General Kris Mayes

The Arizona Supreme Court revived an 1864 law on Tuesday that bans nearly all abortions. The law, literally from the Civil War-era, was passed before Arizona was even a state. It has no exceptions for rape or incest, and doctors who are prosecuted under the law could face fines and up to five years in prison.

In response to the ruling, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes made clear that she will not prosecute any women or doctors under this law. In a powerful statement, Mayes said, “As long as I am Attorney General, no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law.”

Strong words from the state’s top law enforcement official.

This ruling has put Arizona — and its attorney general — smack in the middle of the national abortion debate. That makes Mayes someone to watch.

Norman Eisen’s weekend routine

Norman Eisen was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first impeachment of Donald Trump. He is a frequent MSNBC legal contributor and the author of the new book “Trying Trump.” You can buy it now, wherever you get your books. And tune in Monday at 8 p.m. ET for my conversation with Norm as we break down the first day of Trump’s New York hush money trial.

What show are you bingeing right now?

In honor of friend and fellow ambassador Rahm Emanuel, I have been watching “Shogun” and “Tokyo Vice.” However, informing Rahm of this was somehow not enough to get me an invite to this week’s Japanese state dinner.

What’s the last book you read?

“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin, which is slightly annoying but enjoyable. It’s about a lifelong friendship focused on video games. It inspired me so much I’m going to create my own video game about Trump’s trials, “Grand Theft Democracy.”

What time do you wake up on the weekends?

The same time every day, whether I want to or not: 5:50 a.m. 

How do you take your coffee?

Every day I start with an extra-large skim latte and a donut from 7-Eleven. They’re currently running a $2 special for both. It’s the best breakfast deal in town.