On day 1 of criminal trial, Trump is accused of violating gag order by trash-Truthing Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen

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  • Donald Trump is in court for his first criminal trial.

  • Shortly after he arrived, prosecutors accused him of violating his gag order.

  • After a sleepy start, Trump appeared engaged once jury selection began

At 9:31 a.m., Donald Trump crossed the threshold.

With hunched shoulders but his chin up, he stepped into a courtroom on the 15th floor of New York County criminal court in downtown Manhattan.

It is the grimy, hot, and poorly lit location of the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president.

As Trump entered the courtroom, he paused for a split second, licked his lips, scanned the largely empty room, then walked slowly up the room's center aisle toward his seat facing the judge's bench.

Soon after he sat down, five pool photographers photographed him at the defense table, where he was flanked by his attorneys.

Monday marked the start of jury selection, presided over by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan and expected to last up to two weeks. The trial itself could run into early June.

The Manhattan district attorney's office has accused Trump of 34 counts of falsifying business records, saying he lied on documents to disguise payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress.

The aim of those payments — according to prosecutors, Daniels, and Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer who facilitated the money transfers — was to deceive the voting public on the brink of the 2016 election by keeping her silent about an affair she says she had with him.

Before jury selection got underway, Merchan addressed a series of final pretrial motions from lawyers for Trump and the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who sat in the second row.

It was dry-going, at times. Trump himself appeared to nod off briefly.

The "defendant," as he's called by prosecutors — his lawyers call him 'President Trump' — closed his eyes on several occasions. At least once his head nodded downward, then jerked back up, and he opened his eyes again.

At other times, he appeared to try to keep himself awake. He shifted in his seat and sat straight up before slumping again.

Before jury selection began, prosecutors accused Trump of violating a gag order

Trump has fought against Merchan's gag order, which forbids him from making statements about trial jurors, witnesses, staff prosecutors, and family members of Merchan and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Just before the lunch break, Christopher Conroy, an assistant district attorney, accused Trump of violating the gag order. Conroy asked the judge to impose $1,000 penalties for each of three recent Truth Social posts.

In Truth Social posts last week, Trump attacked Cohen and Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, calling them "two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!"

On Monday morning — possibly while Trump was "in this courtroom," Conroy said — Trump shared another post attacking Cohen, quoting a New York Post editorial saying "a serial perjurer will try to prove an old misdemeanor against Trump in an embarrassment for the New York legal system."

A hearing on whether Trump should be held in contempt of court is scheduled for Tuesday, April 23.

Donald Trump court
Former President Donald Trump with his lawyers in Manhattan Supreme Court.Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images

Earlier in the morning, Merchan ruled on a variety of other motions. Some were losses for Trump (he won't recuse himself from the case), while others were relative victories (jurors won't hear that Melania Trump was pregnant at the time of one of Trump's alleged affairs).

As prospective jurors sat in the courtroom, some stretched their necks to look at the former president sitting near the front of the room.

When Merchan introduced Trump as the defendant, he stood and turned around, giving the crowd a tight-lipped smile.

Out of the first batch of prospective jurors, about half of the group of 96 New Yorkers raised their hands to indicate they couldn't be impartial in the case.

Trump turned around in his seat to look at them.

Once jury selection began in earnest, Trump appeared to be engaged. He flipped through a paper copy of the juror questionnaire, following along as prospective jurors answered questions about their jobs and media diets as the judge tried to determine whether they'd be impartial in a trial.

Monday ended with no jurors chosen. The selection process is scheduled to pick up again on Tuesday morning.

Judges have blocked nearly a dozen attempts to delay the trial

In the hallway before walking into the courtroom Monday morning, Trump once again called the case unfair, telling journalists it was a "political persecution."

"This is an assault on America," he said. "Nothing like this has ever happened before, there's never been anything like it."

"I'm very proud to be here," he added later.

The hush-money case is the first of Trump's four criminal cases to go to trial before the 2024 election, where Trump is the presumed Republican nominee against President Joe Biden.

Merchan has previously denied about a dozen different attempts from Trump's lawyers to delay the case. In a Friday decision, Merchan dismissed one of his motions to delay the case because of "pretrial publicity," calling it "untenable."

"Defendant appears to take the position that his situation and this case are unique and that the pre-trial publicity will never subside," Merchan wrote. "However, this view does not align with reality."

Former President Donald Trump appears with his legal team at the start of jury selection in his criminal trial on April 15, 2024 in New York City.
Former President Donald Trump appears with his legal team at the start of jury selection in his criminal trial in New York City.Jabin Botsford-Pool/Getty Images

On Truth Social, Trump complained once again Monday morning about the gag order, calling the trial "rigged." He also posted a screenshot of a social media post that falsely claimed Orthodox Jews could not serve on the jury. The trial overlaps with Passover, and Merchan previously said he would consider the needs of jurors in determining the trial schedule.

"When I walk into that courtroom, I know I will have the love of 200 million Americans behind me, and I will be FIGHTING for the FREEDOM of 325 MILLION AMERICANS!" Trump posted on Truth Social.

Over the past year, Trump has been a defendant in three civil trials.

Two were for cases brought by E. Jean Carroll, where one jury concluded he sexually abused and defamed her, and another found he should pay her more than $80 million in additional damages for continued defamation.

Jury selection was much swifter in those cases, which was held in federal court. For Carroll's second trial, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan selected the nine-person jury in less than three hours.

The other civil trial was for a sprawling lawsuit from the New York attorney general's office against the Trump Organization. In that case, a judge — in a bench trial with no jury — ordered him and his codefendants to pay nearly half-a-billion dollars in penalties.

Trump has been charged in three other criminal cases, none of which have firm trial dates yet. Two were brought by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith, over his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and for him hoarding government documents in Mar-a-Lago after the presidency.

The other was brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, for pressuring Georgia election officials to overturn Biden's 2020 electoral victory in the state.

This story has been updated.

Read the original article on Business Insider