The Latest | Jury selection set to begin in Trump's history-making hush money trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump arrived Monday at a New York court for the start of jury selection in his hush money trial, marking a historic moment as the former president and presumptive nominee for this year’s Republican presidential ticket answers to criminal charges.

It’s the first criminal trial of any former U.S. commander−in−chief and the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial. Scores of people are expected to be called into the courtroom to begin the process of finding 12 jurors, plus six alternates. Trump’s notoriety would make the process a near−herculean task in any year, but it’s likely to be especially challenging now.

The former president is accused of falsifying internal Trump Organization records as part of a scheme to bury stories that he feared could hurt his 2016 campaign, particularly as his reputation was suffering at the time from comments he had made about women.

The allegations focus on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged Trump had out of wedlock. Trump says none of these supposed sexual encounters occurred.

Currently:

— Here’s what to know about the hush money case

— How a hush money scandal tied to a porn star led to Trump’s first criminal trial

— A jury of his peers: A look at how jury selection will work in Donald Trump’s first criminal trial

— Tracking the criminal and civil cases against Donald Trump

Here is the latest:

JUDGE BLOCKS DETAIL OF McDOUGAL’S STORY AND PLAYING OF ‘ACCESS HOLLYWOOD TAPE’

Judge Juan M. Merchan on Monday agreed to bar prosecutors from eliciting testimony to the effect that Donald Trump’s wife Melania was pregnant while former Playboy model Karen McDougal claimed to have had an affair with him.

Prosecutors can still tell jurors about alleged efforts to suppress McDougal’s story.

McDougal was paid $150,000 in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about her alleged 10−month affair with Trump in the mid−2000s. Trump has denied any affair took place.

The charges in the case pertain only to $130,000 in hush money payments made, through Trump’s then−lawyer Michael Cohen, to porn actor Stormy Daniels. She alleged a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

But prosecutors also plan to bring up McDougal’s claims and payment, arguing that it’s important context for what they have called a scheme “to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information” about Trump.

Merchan on Monday also blocked playing of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump described grabbing women sexually without their permission. But Merchan said prosecutors will be able to present internal campaign emails that Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said contained “powerful evidence of the campaign’s reaction to the incendiary language contained” in the video.

MERCHAN DENIES REQUEST TO EXPAND JUROR QUESTIONNAIRE

Shortly after court convened Monday, Donald Trump’s attorneys asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to expand the already extensive questionnaire filled out by prospective jurors to weed out people who oppose the former president. Merchan declined the request, dismissing the notion that the jury questions were slanted to the benefit of prosecutors.

Over the coming days, the defense and the prosecution will both jockey for potential advantages as a jury pool of regular people is winnowed down to a panel of 12, plus six alternates.

“There is no asymmetry in the questionnaire when looked through the lens of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Merchan said. “This is by far the most exhaustive questionnaire this court has ever used,” he added.

JUDGE TO ALLOW INTRODUCTION OF EVIDENCE ABOUT NATIONAL ENQUIRER PLOY

The National Enquirer helped boost former President Donald Trump’s 2016 candidacy by identifying and suppressing negative stories — a practice known as “catch and kill.”

Judge Merchan said on Monday that such material would be permitted under a state law allowing evidence of alleged prior bad acts.

Trump and his then−lawyer Michael Cohen met with ex−National Enquirer publisher David Pecker at Trump Tower in August 2015 to discuss the supermarket tabloid’s role in helping his presidential run. Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told the judge the meeting was the root of a scheme to suppress three potentially damaging stories about Trump, including porn actor Stormy Daniels’ claims she had a sexual encounter with him in 2006.

Steinglass said the evidence will show that Trump approved, rejected or suggested changes to flattering National Enquirer stories about him and stories attacking his 2016 Republican primary opponents that were “timed perfectly to achieve maximum impact.”

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche argued the evidence “would do nothing but confuse the jury about the actual crime charged.”

MERCHAN REJECTS ANOTHER REQUEST TO RECUSE HIMSELF

As the court day started, Judge Juan M. Merchan turned down a request that Donald Trump’s lawyers had filed asking the judge to recuse himself — a move they also unsuccessfully made earlier in the case.

The Trump legal team pointed largely to the judge’s daughter’s work as a political consultant whose firm has worked for prominent Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that the daughter’s job represents a conflict of interest for Merchan, and they also claimed she had posted an image of Trump behind bars on social media. The court system said she had closed the social media account before the photo was posted.

Trump’s attorneys also argued that an interview Merchan gave to The Associated Press last month violated judicial rules about not making out−of−court comments about a pending case.

The article, which largely concerned Merchan’s oversight of Manhattan’s mental health court, reported that he declined to discuss the Trump case but said preparations for the historic trial were “intense.”

Merchan added that he was striving “to make sure that I’ve done everything I could to be prepared and to make sure that we dispense justice,” emphasizing his confidence in court staffers.

“There’s no agenda here,” the judge said in the interview. “We want to follow the law. We want justice to be done.”

TRUMP’S LAWYERS REQUEST DAYS OFF TO ATTEND HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATIONS

Donald Trump’s lawyers have requested that the trial not be held on May 17 so that the former president may attend his son Barron’s high school graduation. A Trump lawyer has also requested the trial not be held June 3 so that he could attend his own son’s graduation.

Judge Juan M. Merchan said he was not prepared to rule on either request, but that if the trial proceeds as planned he’s willing to adjourn for one or both days.

“It really depends on how we’re doing on time and where we are in the trial,” Merchan said.

LIVESTREAM OF PROCEEDINGS LIMITED TO ONE ROOM IN COURTHOUSE

Only one room can watch a livestream of the proceedings in Donald Trump’s hush money case — and it’s in the courthouse.

A pair of video monitors are airing the proceeding to an overflow room adjacent to the main courtroom. The room was packed Monday morning with press, court officers and a few members of the public.

Among the attendees was prominent Trump critic and attorney George Conway, who is reporting for The Atlantic. Conway was married to Kellyanne Conway while she served as a senior presidential adviser in the Trump White House.

Ron Sinibaldi, a former accountant from Long Island, said he began lining up at the courthouse just before midnight to ensure he could get inside “for the historic day.”

“I read presidential biographies, I go to presidential libraries, I’m here for the history,” Sinibaldi said. “If they were doing this to Jimmy Carter, I’d be here too.”

MEDIA OUTNUM

BER TRUMP SUPPORTERS OUTSIDE COURTHOUSE

Donald Trump supporters rallied outside the courthouse Monday morning ahead of the start of Trump’s hush money trial, but they were outnumbered by members of the media.

Dozens of Trump supporters were outside the courthouse and roughly 40 other individuals were there protesting against the former president.

One group of demonstrators carried a banner that read, “No one is above the law.”

Another group chanted that the judge overseeing Trump’s trial, Juan M. Merchan, should recuse himself. Trump had unsuccessfully pushed for the judge to remove himself from the case.

TRUMP CONTINUES TO PAINT HIMSELF AS A VICTIM AHEAD OF TRIAL

In the hours before Donald Trump’s expected arrival at the courthouse, his campaign continued to telegraph how they intend to characterize the trial.

At 6 a.m., the former president’s campaign issued a lengthy press release attacking Bragg as “George Soros’s Favorite DA” and labeling the historic proceedings as “The NY Biden Trial.” It’s another indication of how Trump has and will continue to personally vilify those who have brought the case, painting himself as the victim of a politically motivated effort by his rivals to tarnish his candidacy.

Trump has been busy posting on his Truth Social platform this morning, blasting the trial as “rigged” and complaining about the gag order that he has been placed under.

“I want my VOICE back. This Crooked Judge has GAGGED me. Unconstitutional! The other side can talk about me, but I am not allowed to talk about them! Rigged Trial!” he posted.

The Associated Press

Photo: AP