Former US President Claims Charges Are Trumped-Up.

Photo: The White House. Donald Trump on the phone in the Oval Office.
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Yesterday history was made as former United States President Donald Trump appeared in a New York courtroom as his trial over charges of falsifying business records to pay blackmail to a prostitute started, in a process that is expected to last for as long as six weeks.

He became the first US president, past or present, to stand trial on criminal charges.

The trial is also the first of four separate criminal trials Trump faces during a period in which he will also be campaigning for  the presidency of the United States.

Prosecutors hope to convict the former president on 34 felony charges related to hush-money payments he allegedly made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims they had an affair.

Not only did he attempt to hide the payments, but he did so in an attempt to stem bad press and conceal information from voters just months before the 2016 presidential election, prosecutors have argued. Trump went on to win that election.

On Monday, Trump appeared at the Manhattan court in his go-to uniform: a blue suit, red tie and US flag lapel pin. He was greeted by hordes of reporters and television cameras, plus a handful of supporters and protesters.

The trial is an “assault on America” and “political persecution”, the 77-year-old former president said.

Trump has regularly dismissed the charges against him as a political “witch-hunt”. He has also used the legal proceedings against him to energise his base — and collect donations — amid his myriad legal woes.

Early in the day, for instance, Trump’s campaign released a “fact sheet” on the trial, seeking to frame it as a means of tilting the upcoming presidential election in November.

“Fact 1: President Trump did nothing wrong. These charges are entirely fabricated in order to interfere in the election and distract from the failed presidency of Crooked Joe Biden,” the email said.

Trump reprised that theme outside the court, taking direct aim at Biden, his likely opponent in November.

“It’s a country that’s failing, it’s a country that’s run by an incompetent man and is very much involved in this case,” Trump said. “This is really an attack on a political opponent. That is all it is, so I’m very honoured to be here.”

He also accused the judge and prosecutors leading the case, including Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, of being partisan.

“It’s a scam. It’s a political witch hunt. It continues, and it continues forever. And we’re not going to be given a fair trial,” he told reporters at the end of the day.

Monday’s hearing also saw prosecutors seek to penalise Trump for alleged violations of a court gag order.

Judge Merchan had issued the gag order against Trump in March, prohibiting him from making statements about possible witnesses and their “potential participation” in the case.

But prosecutors on Monday said he had defied the order at least three times.

They pointed to recent social media posts Trump made, including one about his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen. Trump called him a “disgraced attorney and felon”, casting doubt on his credibility.

Cohen’s testimony is expected to be central to the prosecution’s case.

“The defendant has demonstrated his willingness to flout the order. He has attacked witnesses in the case. In the past, he has attacked grand jurors in the case,” prosecutor Christopher Conroy said.

Prosecutors asked the judge to fine Trump $1,000 for each of the posts. Judge Merchan said he would hold a hearing about the gag order later in the month.

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC.
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