Trump's hush money criminal trial begins today

It's a dark and stormy day for former president Donald Trump, who faces 34 felony counts related to 11 hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump's trial begins today in New York, with jury selection underway.

The trial begins after a 20-day delay was granted by New York Judge Juan Merchan to give both legal teams time to review 31,000 records provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office. In recent weeks, Merchan also issued a gag order on Trump that specifically bars him from making, or directing others to make, public statements about witnesses, prosecutors or jurors. He later extended the order to cover the families after Trump went after the judge's daughter by name on the former president's social media site.

There's no question the hush money was paid to Daniels and to McDougal. But giving mistresses money to keep their mouths shut isn't illegal. Prosecutors must prove the payments were made to further crimes, such as campaign finance violations, or were lied about in tax filings.

Trump was indicted last year by a grand jury over the payments and managed to delay his trial until now, but a verdict is likely this summer. NPR reports that Trump will probably be able to delay other forthcoming criminal trials—one over his role in the Jan. 6 sacking of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters and another over his refusal to return classified documents he took from the White House—until after November's election. The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to rule on whether Trump has blanket immunity from prosecution later this year.

Trump was found liable in civil trials for sexually assaulting writer E. Jean Carroll and defaming her, and for lying about the value of his properties to secure loans against them. He is appealing both verdicts, while conspiciously struggled to raise cash to post appeal bonds.