NATIONAL NEWS

Key players: Who’s who at Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial

Apr 20, 2024, 8:30 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Cohen, who was once Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, is expected to take the stand Monday as the prosecution’s star witness in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

The trial centers on allegations the former president falsified his company’s internal records to obscure the true nature of reimbursement payments to Cohen, who arranged hush money payments to bury negative stories about him during his 2016 presidential race.

The witnesses include a porn actor, a former tabloid publisher and Cohen, who went to federal prison for his role in the hush money matter and for other crimes, including lying to Congress. Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass forewarned prospective jurors that they have “what you might consider to be some baggage.”

Here’s a look at the key players in the historic first criminal trial of a former U.S. president:

DEFENDANT

DONALD TRUMP — The former president of the United States and the presumptive Republican nominee, who parlayed his success as reality television star and celebrity businessman and won the presidential election in 2016, becoming America’s 45th president. The trial involves allegations that he falsified his company’s records to hide the true nature of payments to Cohen, who helped bury negative stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. He’s pleaded not guilty.

WITNESSES

MICHAEL COHEN — Trump’s former lawyer and fixer. He was once a fierce Trump ally, but now he’s a key prosecution witness against his former boss. Cohen worked for the Trump Organization from 2006 to 2017. He later went to federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations relating to the hush money arrangements and unrelated crimes.

STORMY DANIELS — The porn actor who received a $130,000 payment from Cohen as part of his hush-money efforts. Cohen paid Daniels to keep quiet about what she says was a sexual encounter with Trump years earlier. Trump denies having sex with Daniels.

KAREN MCDOUGAL — A former Playboy model who said she had a 10-month affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. She was paid $150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about the alleged relationship. Trump denies having sex with McDougal.

DAVID PECKER — The National Enquirer’s former publisher and a longtime Trump friend. Prosecutors say he met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower in August 2015 and agreed to help Trump’s campaign identify negative stories about him.

HOPE HICKS — Trump’s former White House communications director. Prosecutors say she spoke with Trump by phone during a frenzied effort to keep allegations of his marital infidelity out of the press after the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape leaked weeks before the 2016 election. In the tape, from 2005, Trump boasted about grabbing women without permission.

PROSECUTORS

ALVIN BRAGG — A former civil rights lawyer and law professor, Bragg is a Democrat in his first term as Manhattan’s district attorney. He inherited the Trump investigation when he took office in 2021. He oversaw the prosecution of Trump’s company in an unrelated tax fraud case before moving to indict Trump last year.

MATTHEW COLANGELO — A former high-ranking Justice Department official who was hired by Bragg in 2022 to lead the Trump investigation. They previously worked together on Trump-related matters at the New York attorney general’s office.

JOSHUA STEINGLASS — A Manhattan prosecutor for more than 25 years, he has worked on some of the office’s more high-profile cases, including the Trump Organization’s tax fraud conviction in 2022, and cases involving violent crimes.

SUSAN HOFFINGER — The chief of the district attorney’s Investigation Division, she returned to the office in 2022 after more than 20 years in private practice with her sister, Fran. She worked with Steinglass on the Trump Organization tax fraud prosecution.

TRUMP’S LAWYERS

TODD BLANCHE — A former federal prosecutor, Blanche previously represented Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in a mortgage fraud case — and got it thrown out. Blanche successfully argued that the case, brought by the same prosecutor’s office now taking on Trump, was too similar to one that landed Manafort in federal prison and therefore amounted to double jeopardy.

SUSAN NECHELES — A former Brooklyn prosecutor, Necheles is a respected New York City defense lawyer who represented Trump’s company at its tax fraud trial last year. In the past she served as counsel to the late Genovese crime family underboss Venero Mangano, known as Benny Eggs, and defended John Gotti’s lawyer, Bruce Cutler, in the early 90s.

EMIL BOVE — A star college lacrosse player, Bove was a veteran federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. He was involved in multiple high-profile prosecutions, including a drug-trafficking case against the former Honduran president’s brother, a man who set off a pressure cooker device in Manhattan and a man who sent dozens of mail bombs to prominent targets across the country.

THE JUDGE

JUAN M. MERCHAN — The judge presiding over the case. He was also the judge in the Trump Organization’s tax fraud trial in 2022 and is overseeing a border wall fraud case against longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon. Merchan has twice denied requests by Trump’s lawyers that he step aside from the case. They contend he is biased because his daughter runs a political consulting firm that has worked for Democrats, including President Joe Biden. Merchan has said he is certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial.”

___

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

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Key players: Who’s who at Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial