NEW YORK: Donald Trump became the first former US president to stand criminal trial on Monday when he appeared in a Manhattan court to face charges stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star that could complicate his bid to win back the White House.

Wearing his signature blue suit and red tie, Trump, 77, sat at the defense table while Justice Juan Merchan set limits on witnesses and evidence to be presented at trial and denied a motion by Trump’s lawyers to have the judge rescue himself.

Trump’s legal team has for months filed a flurry of legal motions to delay or derail the four criminal cases against him.

Trump, the 2024 Republican candidate for president, is required to attend the trial, which is expected to last through May. The selection of 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of Manhattan residents is expected to take about a week, followed by witness testimony.

New York state prosecutors accuse him of falsifying records to cover up a $130,000 payment in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels about a 2006 sexual encounter she has said they had.

Trump has denied any such relationship. He pleaded not guilty last year to 34 counts of falsification of business records in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, in New York state court.

Police stood guard in front of the courthouse amid a maze of barricades, and helicopters shadowed the motorcade of black SUVs that ferried Trump from his Trump Tower apartment.

A handful of protesters, gathered in the plaza across the street, carried hand-painted signs reading “LOSER” and “convict Trump already.” Though the case is regarded by some legal experts as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions he faces, it is the only one guaranteed to go to trial before the Nov. 5 election.

If convicted, Trump could still hold office but Reuters/Ipsos polling shows a guilty verdict could hobble his prospects.

The businessman-turned-politician, who served as president from 2017 to 2021, has used past court appearances to rally his supporters and claim he is being targeted by his political enemies.

Over the past year, Trump has criticized witnesses, court officials and relatives of those involved in the various legal cases - prompting Merchan and two other judges to impose limited gag orders against him.

In this case, Trump has unsuccessfully sought to force Merchan to step aside, arguing that he faces a conflict of interest because the judge’s daughter has worked with Democratic politicians.


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