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Trump's trials update

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's time for Trump's Trials.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) We love Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: This is a persecution.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: He actually just stormed out of the courtroom today.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

DETROW: On Monday, Donald Trump will enter a Manhattan courtroom as a criminal defendant. All of his last-ditch efforts to have the case further delayed have failed. So here are the stakes. Trump is facing 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He's accused of paying off adult film star Stormy Daniels and others to hide alleged affairs from before he held political office. And hanging over it all, of course, is the fact that Trump is a candidate for president in a race expected to be decided on razor-thin margins in just a handful of cases. So what happens in this courtroom will really matter for Trump and for the country as well.

Here to break down what we can expect over the course of the next six weeks or so is senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro, as well as Norm Eisen. He's the former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, and he served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first Trump impeachment trial. Eisen has a new book out called "Trying Trump: A Guide To His First Election Interference Criminal Trial." I started by asking Domenico just how significant this moment is.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: This is a time in this country politically when people create their own realities. And I think that's the most difficult thing about trying to report on a lot of the facts of these kinds of cases, because no matter what the facts are, you're going to have half the population that says, don't buy it, don't believe it, especially on the Trump side, because Trump has really convinced his millions of followers that there's a deep state conspiracy, people are out to get him, and they believe this. You know, there was a time when probably you wouldn't have people just believing whatever their preferred candidate tells them.

DETROW: And, Norm, I think that kind of brings us to the title of the book and the way that you and others are thinking about this case. You're saying that this is, you know, not necessarily a hush money case. This is an election interference case. Can you explain why you're framing this case this way?

NORM EISEN: The framing, although I think it's correct, comes from DA Bragg and increasingly from Judge Juan Merchan, who will preside over the trial. In the case summary that the judge will read to every prospective juror, he begins that case summary by saying that this is a criminal trial about the alleged cover-up of an attempt to influence an election. And the reason these 34 examples of document falsification that Donald Trump is being tried for are felonies is because DA Bragg alleges that these documents were falsified to cover up hush money payments that were made for the purpose of influencing a campaign in violation of federal campaign finance law and New York state election law.

So if this is right, the stakes are much greater here than mere hush money or a sex scandal. It really is a democracy case where, in an extremely close election, withholding this information from the voters might have made all the difference in the world.

DETROW: You know, and I do just want to push back on that one more time and kind of think about it because, Domenico, you and I have talked a lot about the fact that, like, a lot of the key moments in this case did happen right around the same time, shortly after the "Access Hollywood" tape. But as, Domenico, you and I have talked about, there were so many allegations flying around Trump in this moment. Would these extramarital affairs have made a difference? I don't know. I don't think it's a clear-cut case because there was so much stuff out there in that moment.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I don't think we know exactly what could have changed the outcome of the 2016 election or if it could have in this case, considering how much other stuff was out there and how many other, you know, "unprecedented," quote-unquote, things that happened with Trump. I've heard from some people who feel like this would have been pile-on considering the "Access Hollywood" tape that had come out, that this might have made some difference. But remember, there were some two dozen women, almost, who accused Trump of sexual misconduct, who came out on the record with their names attached to these things, and that didn't seem to budge the people who voted for him.

DETROW: Yeah. Regardless, there were these alleged payments made. There was this alleged plan to cover them up as legal payments to Michael Cohen. That's the heart of this case. Norm, what is the best evidence that the prosecution has?

EISEN: The most powerful evidence that the prosecution will present is the mosaic of a long running catch-and-kill scheme that the prosecution will contend. I think, with a lot of documentary, testimonial and other evidentiary proof shows that Donald Trump, National Enquirer and Michael Cohen agreed well before the election that they were going to catch and kill negative stories about Donald Trump for the purpose of helping him electorally. If you look at other times when this has been prosecuted, you don't have that kind of express agreement to allegedly violate federal and state campaign finance law.

And then execution of that initial catch-and-kill scheme up to and including writing the checks to repay Michael Cohen, many signed by Donald Trump, that are part of a package of documents that falsely call this legal fees. This was not legal fees. These were monies that were paid to allegedly to cover up election influence, in the words of the judge.

DETROW: That was Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first Trump impeachment trial, as well as NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.