What you need to know about Trump's hush-money trial

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Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on ThursdayImage source, Getty Images

Image caption,

The Republican frontrunner for president will juggle an untelevised six-week trial with campaigning

Donald Trump's first criminal trial is now under way, with the first day of jury selection concluding on Monday.

The former president has in recent months faced judges in two separate New York civil trials, but his criminal trial there will look very different.

Mr Trump, 77, has been charged with 34 counts of fraud, related to hush-money that was paid to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

He has pleaded not guilty, arguing the allegations he faces are not criminal.

The Manhattan case could frequently take the Republican frontrunner for president off the campaign trail during the eight-week trial.

Here's everything we know about the trial.

What is it all about?

Ms Daniels alleges that she had sex with Mr Trump in 2006 - something he denies - and that she was paid money to stay quiet about it in the lead-up to the 2016 election, which Mr Trump won.

The trial centres on a reimbursement Mr Trump made to his former personal lawyer and "fixer", Michael Cohen.

Cohen, 57, claims he was directed to pay Ms Daniels $130,000 (£104,000) in exchange for her silence about her alleged affair with Mr Trump. Prosecutors have described this as an attempt to "unlawfully influence" the 2016 election.

Hush money payments are not illegal. But the Manhattan District Attorney's Office alleges that Mr Trump committed a crime by improperly recording the money with which he reimbursed Cohen as legal expenses.

In total, he is accused of 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.

Will Trump attend?

Mr Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for the 2024 election, has previously vowed to be in court by day and campaign by night. Legally, he is required to be in court.

However, Mr Trump is looking to skip trial on the day of his son's high school graduation on 17 May. The judge has said he will decide closer to the date.

That is not how Mr Trump has done things previously. The former president showed up sporadically at his pair of recently concluded civil trials, often entering and leaving the courtroom as he pleased.

But in this trial, because he is a criminal defendant, the former president will not have the same latitude.

Mr Trump will have to attend every day of his criminal trial, experts told the BBC. If he does not, then a warrant could be issued for his arrest.

The court does have some limited discretion to approve absences, experts said, so the judge could decide to permit Mr Trump to leave for another hearing or an important event.

But not appearing can prove costly at a jury trial, said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers.

People do not like jury duty, he said, "and when they see that a party in the case does not care and does not respect their time, that is a sure-fire way to get convicted".

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Watch: "This is not a crime" - Trump enters hush money hearing

The ex-president already has crushed the competition in the Republican primary, and is now the presumptive Republican nominee. He only has the general election in November to worry about from here.

But a six to eight-week trial will serve as a distraction for his campaign and conflict with his ability to get his challenge of President Joe Biden off the ground. It will also siphon off much-needed campaign funds to support his legal defence.

What will the trial look like?

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, who oversaw a tax fraud trial against the Trump Organisation last year, has more than 16 years on the bench. But the first criminal trial of a former US president will be his highest-profile case as judge.

Mr Trump previously argued the judge "hates" him and should step aside, a move Justice Merchan rejected.

The former president has hired a coterie of lawyers for his various cases. Representing him here is a team led by Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the first person to indict Mr Trump, has assembled a team of eight seasoned litigators for the prosecution.

Prosecutors have told the court they will need 15 to 17 days minimum to present their case and may need more if the two sides cannot agree on certain stipulations.

Mr Cohen is expected to be the prosecution's star witness. He will likely face an intense cross-examination over his chequered past.

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Watch: How Trump and Cohen's friendship soured over the years

The ex-president, meanwhile, will argue that the charges are "meritless" and "politically motivated". He has said that about the multiple trials he faces, but he has not provided evidence to support these assertions.

Per Justice Merchan's rules, the court will not sit on Wednesdays, or on 29 April.

The trial may also pause for the Jewish holiday of Passover, which some members of Mr Trump's legal team will observe.

How will jury selection work?

New York felony trials require 12 jurors with up to six alternates.

Prospective jurors have begun facing a range of questions when the trial kicks off, from where they get their news to whether they have ever attended a Trump rally.

They are being asked if they have read any of Mr Trump's books or if they have listened to anything from Mr Cohen.

Jury selection could take the bulk of the trial, according to Mr Rahmani, because "everyone knows who Donald Trump is. Everyone has an opinion about him".

"People are not coming into the courtroom with a blank slate," Mr Rahmani said.

Prosecutors and the defence team may weed through as many as 500 potential jurors to find an impartial group.

Justice Merchan can, however, impose a time limit to ask questions. Each side is also limited to making 10 challenges without providing cause.

Will the trial be televised?

New York is one of only three jurisdictions in the country that bans nearly all audio and visual coverage during trials, although it made a brief exception for audio during the pandemic.

Judges have discretion over letting cameras into their courtrooms, and we did catch brief glimpses from Mr Trump's civil fraud trial on most days.

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Donald Trump Jr: 'I should have worn make-up'

But Justice Merchan has not allowed cameras in his courtroom during preliminary hearings and did not appear to reverse course as this trial began.

That means - despite the intense public interest - that only a few members of the public and the press will be inside the Manhattan courthouse to watch the prosecution of Mr Trump.

The rest of us will have to rely on media reports, sketch art and, in all likelihood, Mr Trump's online posts to colour in the scene each day.

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