Landmark Trump hush money criminal trial to start in New York

Donald Trump goes to court Monday as the first U.S. ex-president ever to be criminally prosecuted, a seismic moment for the United States as the presumptive Republican nominee campaigns to re-take the White House.

The scandal-plagued 77-year-old is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels to shield his 2016 election campaign from adverse publicity.

The so-called hush money affair is only one of four criminal cases hanging over Trump and some legal observers suggest it is the least serious.

But the real prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon — and potentially facing jail time — throws an unprecedented wild card into an already unpredictable election.

The right-wing populist is running on dark vows of "vengeance" against Democratic President Joe Biden, who beat him in 2020.

Trump has said he will take the stand in the case, which gets underway from 1330 GMT, an unusual and often risky move for defendants.

"I've been indicted more than Al Capone, the great gangster," Trump said to cheering supporters at a rally Saturday in key swing state Pennsylvania.

"There is absolutely nothing here," he insisted. "There is no misdemeanor, there is no felony, there's no federal crime."

But ahead of any testimony by Trump, the trial will start Monday with a likely lengthy and contentious process to select 12 jurors and their alternates.

  Trump alleges 'lawfare' 

The pool of ordinary citizens convened by Judge Juan Merchan must answer a questionnaire including checks on whether they have been members of far-right groups.

The actual charges revolve around highly technical finance laws.

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