Key takeaways from day one of Trump’s hush money trial

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Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial is now underway, with jury selection the first task.

The former president is now expected to be in court four days a week for the next six to eight weeks.

He is facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a bid to cover up hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. He allegedly paid Ms Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence over a 2006 affair. Trump denies the affair and all the charges against him.

Here are the takeaways of day one of The People v Donald Trump:

Trump ‘fell asleep’ during proceedings

At several points during proceedings, Mr Trump appeared to dose off, according to court reporters who were present at the trial on Monday.

“Trump appears to be sleeping. His head keeps dropping down and his mouth goes slack,” New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman reported.

The observation quickly inspired a new nickname for the 77-year-old former president: “Sleepy Don” which spread across social media.

“Looks, he’s old. The judge is keeping Sleepy Don from his nap time,” Meidas Touch editor-in-chief Ron Filipkowski posted.

Trump’s campaign has furiously denied that he fell asleep, blasting the claims as “100% fake news.”

Trump accused of violating gag order

Trump did little talking inside the courtroom on Monday, but prosecutors accused him of violating a gag order imposed on him in March to prevent him from commenting publicly about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff and jurors.

On Monday, he was accused of violating that gag order, with prosecutor Chris Conroy asking Judge Juan Merchan to hold Mr Trump in contempt and impose a $3,000 fine on him for attacking two potential trial witnesses – Stormy Daniels, the adult film star at the centre of the criminal case, and his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen – after the former president posted about the pair on his Truth Social app.

Former US President Donald J. Trump at the Manhattan criminal court in New York (EPA)
Former US President Donald J. Trump at the Manhattan criminal court in New York (EPA)

“We think that it is important for the court to remind Mr Trump that he is a criminal defendant,” Mr Conroy said. “And like all criminal defendants he’s subject to court supervision.”

One of Trump’s posts on Truth Social called eventual trial witness Michael Cohen his “SleazeBag former attorney,” and in another he re-posted Stormy Daniels’ letter from 2018 denying an affair with Trump, which she has since rescinded.

The matter was scheduled for arguments at a 23 April hearing.

Mr Trump was previously fined twice for violating a gag order imposed by New York Judge Arthur Engoron in his civil fraud trial.

More than half of jurors dismissed

More than half of the 96 people summoned as prospective jurors for the case were dismissed on Monday because they said they did not think they could be fair and impartial.

During jury selection, prospective jurors will be asked 42 questions, including if they have ever attended a rally or campaign event for Mr Trump, volunteered for his campaign or been a part of any “anti-Trump” efforts.

The process saw more than half of the prospective jurors dismissed, with one woman answering yes to question 34: Do you have any strong opinions or firmly held beliefs about former President Donald Trump, or the fact that he is a current candidate for president that would interfere with your ability to be a fair and impartial juror?”

Judge Merchan stopped her questioning and asked whether the lawyers had any objection to dismissing her. After a brief sidebar she was thanked for her service and dismissed.

“I just couldn’t do it,” the juror was heard saying in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Legal experts have predicted that jury selection could take weeks after Trump attorney Todd Blanche requested more time to question potential jurors on Monday.

Judge will not recuse himself despite Trump’s efforts to delay the trial

Mr Trump made another attempt to delay proceedings on Monday, arguing that Judge Merchan should recuse himself from the trial over alleged conflicts of interest and indications of bias that meant he could not be fair.

He had previously claimed that the judge should be removed from the case because his daughter works as a consultant for the Democrats.

Donald Trump in a historic court appearance for his hush money trial (Angela Weiss - Pool/Getty Images)
Donald Trump in a historic court appearance for his hush money trial (Angela Weiss - Pool/Getty Images)

Judge Merchan addressed the two complaints at the start of the hearing on Monday, reiterating that he would not recuse himself.

He argued the defense team’s request was based on “a series of hints, innuendo and unsupported speculation.”

‘Access Hollywood’ tape can’t be played, but actress can testify

Judge Merchan made several key rulings on Monday.

In perhaps one of the most significant moments, the judge sided with prosecutors, allowing Karen McDougal, an actress and model who alleged she also had an affair with Trump, to testify. Trump denies the allegation.

The defense also scored a key win on Monday when Judge Merchan ruled that the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape can’t be played in court, saying it was prejudicial.

Prosecutors will also not be allowed to bring up other sexual assault allegations against Mr Trump that surfaced after the “Access Hollywood tape” was made public in October 2016.

“They are very prejudicial, and at this point, given what we know today, it was just a rumor,” Judge Merchan said.