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What charges did Trump face in New York’s hush money trial?

Jury convicts former US president of falsifying business records to conceal hush money paid to Stormy Daniels before 2016 election

A jury on Thursday convicted Donald Trump of falsifying business records to conceal hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. Here is an explanation of the charges Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought against Trump, the Republican candidate challenging Democratic president Joe Biden in the November 5th US election.

What was Trump accused of doing?

Bragg’s office last year charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment that Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels, whose given name is Stephanie Clifford. The payment was made in the waning days of the 2016 campaign in exchange for her silence about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump a decade earlier, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have alleged that was part of a broader “catch-and-kill” scheme to suppress negative news stories about Trump before the 2016 election in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Cohen has also said he and Trump discussed a $150,000 payment made by American Media, publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep quiet about an affair she says she had with Trump. The tabloid never published a story. Trump denies both sexual relationships and has called the case a politically motivated “witch hunt”.

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Trump in 2018 admitted to reimbursing Cohen for his payment to Daniels, though his lawyers have since argued that his payments to Cohen in 2017 were retainer payments for Cohen’s work as his personal lawyer that year, not reimbursements for the Daniels payment.

What laws was Trump accused of violating?

According to prosecutors, Trump disguised his 2017 reimbursement checks to Cohen for the Daniels payment as retainer fees for legal services in records maintained by his New York-based family real estate company, the Trump Organisation.

Each of the 34 counts stem from a check, ledger entry or invoice from Trump's payments to Cohen. It is against New York state law to make a false entry in a company's records. While falsification of business records on its own is a misdemeanour, it is considered a felony punishable by up to four years in prison if it is done to conceal or further other crimes.

In this case, Bragg said that other crime was a violation of a New York state law making it a misdemeanour to conspire to promote a candidacy by “unlawful means.” Prosecutors say Trump, Cohen, and former American Media chief executive David Pecker conspired to pay off people with potentially negative stories about Trump – including Daniels – to remain quiet before the 2016 election. They say those payments were effectively campaign contributions that exceeded the $2,700 cap on individual donations in 2016.

How did Trump pay Cohen?

Jurors saw 11 checks from Trump or his trust to Cohen in 2017 that totalled $420,000.

Prosecutors say that included reimbursements for the Daniels payment and $50,000 for other expenses Cohen incurred while working on Trump's campaign, as well as $180,000 to account for taxes Cohen would have had to pay for falsely reporting the money as income rather than a reimbursement, according to prosecutors.

The checks also included a $60,000 bonus for Cohen's work for the Trump Organization, prosecutors said.

What was Trump’s defence?

Trump’s lawyers argued that Cohen acted on his own when paying Daniels, and that the purpose of silencing Daniels and McDougal was to spare him and his family the embarrassment of public attention to alleged extramarital affairs, not to help his campaign. They have also said that his payments to Cohen in 2017 were legal retainer fees.

They sought to undercut Cohen's credibility as a witness, by pointing out that he perjured himself before Congress, pleaded guilty to federal crimes, and frequently stated publicly that he wants to see Trump punished.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance laws through the hush money scheme. The US Attorney’s office in Manhattan never charged Trump, whom it referred to in its charging document against Cohen as “Individual-1,” with any crime. In an interview with Reuters in December 2018, Trump said the payment to Daniels “wasn’t a campaign contribution” and “there was no violation based on what we did.” – Reuters