The key players to know in the Trump “hush money” trial, set to begin Monday


When former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial begins in New York on Monday, it will mark the culmination of a yearslong investigation and open a new chapter of a story that goes back even further, to an alleged affair in 2006.

It’s a tale that weaves together presidential politics, tabloid headlines and the mundane intricacies of corporate ledgers. The trial will feature a unique cast of characters, some of whom are already household names, while others are stepping into the spotlight for the first time.

These are some of the key figures to know as the first ever criminal trial of a former president begins.

The defendant and key witnesses

Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media in the hallway outside a courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Monday, March 25, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media in the hallway outside a courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on March 25, 2024.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Trump, who has locked up the Republican presidential nomination once again, is the defendant in the case, charged with 34 felony counts of falsification of business records. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on April 4, 2023. He has since raged against prosecutors and the judge, accusing them of conspiring against him for political gain. 

Prosecutors say he took part in a scheme to conceal reimbursements to his then-lawyer, who paid $130,000 in “hush money” to adult film star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election. Daniels alleged she had an affair with Trump in 2006, which he denies. She signed a strict non-disclosure agreement in exchange for the money. 

Trump has said he would be willing to testify, but it is unclear if his lawyers will call him to the stand.

Michael Cohen 

Michael Cohen walks through the lobby at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 12, 2017.
Michael Cohen walks through the lobby at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 12, 2017.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images


Cohen is the former lawyer whose payment is at the center of the case. 

The 34 charges against Trump represent 11 invoices, 11 checks and 12 Trump Organization ledger entries that all allegedly characterized reimbursements from Trump to Cohen as monthly payments for ongoing legal services in 2017 and 2018. 

Prosecutors allege that in fact they were reimbursements for $130,000 Cohen paid to the adult film star in 2016. The reimbursements totaled $420,000, prosecutors said, allowing Cohen to recoup tax losses and walk away with a bonus. Cohen, who in 2018 entered a guilty plea in a related federal case, is the key witness against Trump.

Stormy Daniels

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels exits the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 16, 2018, in New York.
Stormy Daniels exits the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on April 16, 2018.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images


Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is the adult film star whom Cohen paid in October 2016.

The 2016 agreement in which she agreed to remain quiet was orchestrated by Cohen and Daniels’ attorney. Trump used an alias, “David Dennison,” and Daniels was called “Peggy Peterson.” An accompanying letter identified the pseudonyms’ true identities. 

Cohen wired the $130,000 to Daniels’ lawyer through a shell company called Essential Consultants LLC, which he established just days earlier.

Keith Davidson 

Davidson was Daniels’ attorney. In 2016, he twice approached executives of the National Enquirer about clients who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, and secured payments in exchange for the rights to their stories.

Karen McDougal 

McDougal was a former Playboy model who also alleged an affair with Trump. In 2016, the National Enquirer’s parent company paid $150,000 for the rights to her story but never published her account, a tactic known as “catch and kill.”

David Pecker and Dylan Howard

David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media
David Pecker, then chairman and CEO of American Media, in a 2014 file photo.

Marion Curtis / AP


Pecker was the CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, and Howard was the tabloid’s editor. Both looked out for negative stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign, purchasing the rights to particularly salacious ones — “catching” them — and keeping them secret — “killing” them. Davidson contacted the pair before ultimately negotiating with Cohen personally to iron out the deal for Daniels’ story.

Jeffrey McConney 

Jeffrey McConney, controller for the Trump Organization, leaves New York State Supreme Court on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.
Jeffrey McConney, controller for the Trump Organization, leaves New York State Supreme Court on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023.

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images


McConney is no stranger to the witness stand in Trump-related cases. The former controller of the Trump Organization, McConney oversaw the logging and processing of payments and other company finances for decades. Prosecutors say he instructed a payroll supervisor to log reimbursements to Cohen as monthly payments due under an ongoing retainer agreement. Prosecutors say no such agreement existed. He is not accused of wrongdoing.

The prosecutors

Prosecutors Joshua Steinglass and Susan Hoffinger listen as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg gives a brief comment on Dec. 6, 2022, in New York City.
Prosecutors Joshua Steinglass and Susan Hoffinger listen as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg gives a brief comment on Dec. 6, 2022, in New York City.

Michael M Santiago/Getty Images


Alvin Bragg

Bragg was elected as the Manhattan district attorney in November 2021 and soon after took over the investigation into Trump, which was already more than two years old. Bragg’s early tenure was marked by high-profile resignations of prosecutors who worked for his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., and had pursued a sweeping financial crimes case. 

By the time Bragg took office, two Trump Organization companies and their longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, had already been charged with felonies relating to tax fraud. His team secured a guilty plea from Weisselberg in August 2022, and in December of that year, the companies were convicted at trial. 

On March 31, 2023, a Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump in a case narrowly focused on alleged falsification of business records in connection to reimbursements for the payment to Daniels.

Susan Hoffinger

Hoffinger was hired by Bragg as his office’s chief of the investigation division and executive assistant district attorney. She led the trial team that secured the conviction of two Trump Organization companies in 2022, on 17 felony counts related to tax fraud.

Joshua Steinglass

Steinglass was also a key member of that team, questioning key witnesses and delivering the closing argument. Steinglass is known for prosecuting high-profile murder and manslaughter cases.

Christopher Conroy 

Conroy is a veteran prosecutor whose work on major white-collar crimes includes half a decade leading the D.A.’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau.

Matthew Colangelo 

Colangelo is a former senior Justice Department official, a fact that Trump has cited in an effort to portray Bragg’s investigation as tied to the Biden administration. Colangelo was hired in December 2022, partly because he was involved with the New York attorney general’s civil investigation of Trump prior to working for the federal government. That case ended this year when Trump was ordered to pay the state more than $454 million to recoup “ill-gotten gains” from fraud.

Rebecca Mangold 

Mangold is a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau. Previously, Mangold represented high-profile clients in complex financial fraud cases as a private attorney.

The defense attorneys

Todd Blanche

Todd Blanche arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Feb. 15, 2024.
Todd Blanche arrives at Trump Tower in New York on Feb. 15, 2024.

Michael M Santiago/Getty Images / Getty Images


Blanche was a partner at an elite New York law firm until the day before Trump’s arraignment in 2023, when he resigned his post. He wrote in his resignation letter that working for Trump was “an opportunity I should not pass up.” In addition to Trump’s New York case, Blanche, a former prosecutor, leads Trump’s defense efforts in his Washington, D.C. and Florida federal criminal cases. As a defense attorney, Blanche was no stranger to Trump’s circle, having represented Trump lawyer Boris Epshteyn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort, as well as Igor Furman, a former associate of ex-Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. 

Susan Necheles 

Susan Necheles arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Monday, March 25, 2024.
Susan Necheles arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Monday, March 25, 2024.

Curtis Means/Daily Mail/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Necheles has been a core member of Trump’s New York legal team for years. She represented the company during its 2022 trial. She and her law partner, Gedalia Stern, are the only attorneys from that case defending Trump in his upcoming criminal trial. Necheles’ previous clients include organized crime figures and leading local Democratic politicians, such as former state Sen. Pedro Espada.

Emil Bove 

Bove was a federal prosecutor for nearly a decade in the Southern District of New York, where his roles included co-chief of the National Security and International Narcotics Unit. Bove worked as a defense attorney for two years before Blanche hired him in September. At the time, Blanche described Bove as “an expert in white collar” cases, and said “his trial skills are among the best in the business.”

The judge

Juan Merchan

Judge Juan Merchan poses in his chambers in New York on March 14, 2024.
Judge Juan Merchan poses in his chambers in New York on March 14, 2024.

Seth Wenig / AP


Merchan has been a judge in New York courts since 2006. Prior to that, he spent more than a decade as a litigator for the New York attorney general and as a Manhattan prosecutor. 

As a jurist, his high-profile cases include presiding over the Trump Organization’s 2022 criminal trial, a 2012 case against the operator of an upscale prostitution ring and a 2011 case involving a police officer who lied in court about illegal searches he conducted. 

Merchan has been the focus of a long series of social media tirades by Trump, who accused the judge of bias, citing work Merchan’s daughter does for a Democratic-aligned consulting firm. In 2023, a state ethics panel concluded her work did not compromise Merchan’s impartiality.



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