Trump’s “hush money” trial is getting underway. Here’s what to know.

The historic criminal trial of former President Donald Trump kicked off in a Manhattan courtroom Monday — the first time a former president in U.S. history has stood trial on criminal charges.

The proceedings before Judge Juan Merchan moved forward after Trump made multiple attempts to delay them, resulting in a string of losses that failed to derail the trial’s start.

The prosecution by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg stems from allegations Trump made a “hush money” payment to an adult film star in an effort to conceal damaging information about him during the 2016 election. 

It is the first of four criminal cases involving the former president to go to trial and comes as Trump is making a bid to return to the White House for a second term. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges he faces and claims the prosecutions are politically motivated.

Here’s what to know about the case as jury selection gets underway:

What is the case about, and what is Trump charged with?

Former President Donald Trump attends a pretrial hearing in a New York courtroom on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump attends a pretrial hearing in a New York courtroom on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

At the heart of this case is a payment made days before Trump was elected president in 2016. His attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair, which Trump denies.

Prosecutors say Cohen was then reimbursed by Trump in a series of 12 monthly payments from the Trump Organization that were logged and characterized as checks for ongoing legal services, as opposed to repayments for the hush money. Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty.

Justice Juan Merchan will explain the case to potential jurors with these words, according to a court filing:

“The allegations are, in substance, that Donald Trump falsified business records to conceal an agreement with others to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, it is alleged that Donald Trump made or caused false business records to hide the true nature of payments made to Michael Cohen, by characterizing them as payment for legal services rendered pursuant to a retainer agreement. The People allege that in fact, the payments were intended to reimburse Michael Cohen for money he paid to Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, in the weeks before the presidential election to prevent her from publicly revealing details about a past sexual encounter with Donald Trump.”

What’s happening Monday?

Judge Juan Merchan's courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on March 12, 2024.
Judge Juan Merchan’s courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on March 12, 2024. ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

The trial formally kicks off on Monday with jury selection. More than 500 Manhattan residents have been summoned to appear as potential jurors in the trial. They will be asked to fill out a form with questions ranging from the mundane — what jobs they hold — to the more pointed, like whether they follow Trump on social media.

What do prosecutors say about the case?

Bragg said after Trump was arraigned in April 2023 that the core of the case is that Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

In a December radio interview, Bragg said the case is about “conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up.”

What has Trump said about the case?

Trump has repeatedly accused Bragg of pursuing the case for political gain, and has sought to tie the case to a broader accusation — without proof — that his political enemies have conspired to use the courts against him. He has also raged against Merchan, whom he has similarly accused of bias.

In a social media post on Wednesday, Trump made many of his typical unfounded claims about the case, including that it’s “an illegal attack on a Political Opponent,” and that he will be “forced to sit, GAGGED, before a HIGHLY CONFLICTED & CORRUPT JUDGE, whose hatred for me has no bounds.”

Trump will be “gagged”? 

Well, not literally. But he is under a gag order limiting what he can say about the trial.

On March 26, Trump was barred from commenting on potential witnesses in the case, prospective jurors, court staff, lawyers in Bragg’s office and the relatives of any counsel or court staffer — but was free to attack Bragg and Merchan.

Trump lashed out at the judge, and in the ensuing days focused on Merchan’s adult daughter, who works for a consulting firm that works with Democratic candidates and causes. On April 1, Merchan expanded his gag order to prevent Trump from making more public comments about the judge’s family. Merchan wrote that he had potential jurors and their families in mind.

“The average observer must now, after hearing [Trump’s] recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but their loved ones,” Merchan wrote. “Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitutes a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself.”

Will the trial be live-streamed?

No, there will be no live footage or audio from the courtroom, since New York state law prohibits broadcasting criminal proceedings. Photographers will be allowed to capture images at the start of each day of the trial. 

CBS News will have reporters covering the trial from the courtroom itself and from an overflow room on the same floor in the courthouse, where there will be a live feed.

Who are Trump’s lawyers?

Todd Blanche arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Feb. 15, 2024.
Todd Blanche arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Feb. 15, 2024. Michael M Santiago/Getty Images / Getty Images

Trump is represented by Todd Blanche, Susan Necheles and Emil Bove, among others. Blanche is also leading Trump’s defense in two unrelated federal criminal cases. Necheles has been an attorney in Trump’s orbit for years, and represented his company during a 2022 trial in which two of its entities were forced to pay a fine after being convicted of 17 felony counts related to tax fraud committed by executives.

Where is the trial?

The trial is taking place at the Manhattan Criminal Court, the same courthouse that has been used for eight decades to process cases for thousands of New Yorkers who each year come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Will Trump attend the trial?

Yes. Defendants in New York criminal cases are required to attend trials unless they apply for a waiver from proceedings. Trump has not done so.

Will Trump testify?

Trump told reporters after a March 25 hearing that he “would have no problem testifying,” but his lawyers have not said if they intend to call him. Pretrial filings in the case indicate the two sides have sparred over what topics prosecutors would be allowed to broach if Trump does take the stand.

How long will the trial last?

Court personnel and lawyers from both sides have said they expect the trial to last between six and eight weeks. Proceedings will generally be held four days a week, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with exceptions for holidays.

The prosecution will present its case first, followed by the defense.

If Trump is convicted, can he be sentenced to prison?

Yes. Each of the counts against Trump carries a maximum sentence of four years incarceration. Trump would be a first-time, nonviolent offender. The judge would have wide discretion in imposing a sentence, and could even give Trump no prison time at all.

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