Opening statements and first witness on tap for Trump hush money trial

Opening statements are set to begin Monday morning in the case of the People of the State of New York versus Donald Trump, the first criminal trial of a former president.

Former National Enquirer David Pecker is also expected to take the stand as the first witness for the prosecution, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told NBC News.

Prosecutors have said Pecker, the longtime former publisher of the National Enquirer, is a central figure in the alleged scheme to bury claims from women who said they had affairs with Trump.

Attorneys on both sides will first present their opening statements after the judge delivers instructions to the 12-person jury and six alternates.

The source said that due to opening statements and a hearing on Trump’s gag order set for Tuesday, they don’t expect the cross-examination of Pecker to happen until Thursday.

Prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office are expected to lay out what they’ve called an “illegal conspiracy” designed “to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

They allege Trump worked with his then-attorney Michael Cohen and executives at the National Enquirer to suppress scandalous stories, including from adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Daniels says she slept with Trump in 2006, and McDougal says she had a 10-month sexual relationship with Trump that ended in April 2007. Trump has denied sleeping with either woman.

Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet, while Enquirer publisher AMI paid McDougal $150,000. After he was elected president, Trump repaid Cohen in a series of payments that prosecutors argue were fraudulently labeled as legal expenses. Trump has acknowledged repaying Cohen, but maintains the payments were legitimate and he didn’t do anything wrong.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records related to the hush money payment to Daniels, which was made in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The former president, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, could face up to four years in prison if convicted.

Cohen, Daniels and McDougal are also expected to testify during the trial, which is estimated to take six weeks.

It’s unclear who will be delivering opening statements for the prosecution on Monday. The DA’s office declined comment Friday.

Todd Blanche will deliver the opening statement for the defense. He’s expected to argue that Trump didn’t commit any wrongdoing and that the jurors can’t trust what Cohen and Daniels tell them because both have axes to grind against the former president.

The jury consists of seven men and five women. The final day of jury selection, on Friday, was particularly intense, as some potential jurors broke down in tears and said they were too anxious to be seated on the jury. They were excused. The day also saw a man set himself on fire outside the courthouse.

Trial proceedings on Monday will be slightly abbreviated. Judge Juan Merchan has said the court will adjourn at 2 p.m. ET on Monday and Tuesday because of the Passover holiday.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said in court Friday that the DA’s office plans to call one witness Monday, with direct testimony expected to take up the rest of the day after opening statements. Trump attorney Susan Necheles on Friday asked for the witness’ identity, but Steinglass refused to disclose it, noting that Trump has attacked witnesses, including Cohen, in social media posts despite a partial gag order forbidding such action.

The judge called Steinglass’ position “understandable” and said he would not order prosecutors to reveal the witness before Sunday.

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