“The people of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump”

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“The people of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump”

The charges, the stakes, and the significance of this landmark trial

April 17, 2024 -

Former President Donald Trump heads to the courtroom after speaking at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in New York. Donald Trump returned to the courtroom Tuesday as a judge works to find a panel of jurors who will decide whether the former president is guilty of criminal charges alleging he falsified business records to cover up a sex scandal during the 2016 campaign. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump heads to the courtroom after speaking at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in New York. Donald Trump returned to the courtroom Tuesday as a judge works to find a panel of jurors who will decide whether the former president is guilty of criminal charges alleging he falsified business records to cover up a sex scandal during the 2016 campaign. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump heads to the courtroom after speaking at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in New York. Donald Trump returned to the courtroom Tuesday as a judge works to find a panel of jurors who will decide whether the former president is guilty of criminal charges alleging he falsified business records to cover up a sex scandal during the 2016 campaign. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool)

The first seven jurors were selected yesterday to serve on the first criminal trial of an American president in US history. The courtroom is dark today, as is expected for the duration of the six-week trial against Donald Trump, but jury selection will resume tomorrow.

What are the charges in the case?

What is at stake in the trial?

What is the larger significance of this historic event?

What are the charges against Mr. Trump?

Donald Trump faces a thirty-four count felony indictment alleging that he falsified New York business records in order to conceal damaging information before the 2016 presidential election. He has pleaded not guilty.

The allegations focus on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed they had extramarital sexual encounters with Mr. Trump years earlier. Mr. Trump says none of these supposed sexual encounters ever occurred.

His former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer to pay McDougal $150,000 for exclusive rights to her story with no intention of publishing it. Prosecutors say Mr. Trump’s company reimbursed Mr. Cohen and gave him bonuses and extra payments, all of which were falsely logged in Trump Organization records as legal expenses.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg must show that Mr. Trump falsified or caused business records to be entered falsely, which would be a misdemeanor. But to win on the felony charge, he must also show that the former president did so with intent to commit or conceal a second crime. Mr. Bragg has claimed that evidence shows these actions were meant to conceal state and federal campaign finance and tax crimes.

What are the stakes?

This case may significantly affect the presidential election since a decision could come by summer of this year. By contrast, Mr. Trump’s other major trials are unlikely to reach a verdict before the fall election.

Mr. Trump will be required to spend every day of the trial in the courtroom unless a judge rules otherwise. This means he will be in New York nearly every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for at least the next two months. He has vowed to attend court during the day and campaign events at night.

If Mr. Trump is convicted, he could be sentenced to up to four years in prison, though the judge could impose a fine or probation instead. Neither a criminal conviction nor a prison sentence would affect his eligibility for office.

However, half of Americans say they would consider Mr. Trump unfit to serve as president if he is convicted in the case. And among Republicans currently planning to vote for him, 13 percent said a felony conviction would lead them not to do so.

In addition, nearly a quarter of Republicans in the poll said they would not vote for him if he was serving time in prison at the time of the election. In close battleground states where the election is expected to be decided, these responses could lose the election.

In another poll, if Mr. Trump were convicted on criminal charges, Joe Biden opened a 6-point lead among registered voters. Nearly one in ten Republicans said they would support Mr. Biden.

What is the larger significance of this trial?

A new survey finds that only one in three US adults think Mr. Trump acted illegally in the current case. Sentiment is deeply divided along partisan lines: about six in ten Democrats believe he did something illegal in the case, but fewer than one in ten Republicans agree. In addition, only about two in ten of us are extremely or very confident that the judges and jurors in the cases against the former president can be fair and impartial.

Here’s why this matters so urgently: America’s criminal justice system is our last bulwark against immorality in our country. Congress can pass laws, but citizens can and do break them. Voters can remove elected leaders from office, but the vast majority of us are not subject to such accountability.

If we believe our courts are as dominated by partisan bias as the rest of our divided society, how can our participatory democracy survive?

Here we see vividly the fact that politics cannot be our religion. Humans need a moral power that transcends our fallen natures. When we trust a president or a political party to do what only the Holy Spirit can do, we make people into idols and reject our only hope for a flourishing future. As Chuck Colson noted:

“Salvation won’t arrive on Air Force One.”

This is why our focus this week on personal evangelism is so urgent. Paul reminded us, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Alistair Begg is therefore right to urge us:

Withhold no part of the precious truth, but speak what you know and declare what you have seen. Do not allow the toil or darkness or possible unbelief of your friends to dissuade you. Let us rise and march to the place of duty, and there declare what great things God has shown to our soul.

Will you be faithful in your “place of duty” today?

Wednesday news to know:

Quote for the day:

“What an incredible witness it is to a lost and fearful society when the Christian acts like a child of God, living under the loving sovereignty of the Heavenly Father.” —Henry Blackaby

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