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Trump tried to 'corrupt' the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

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Trump tried to 'corrupt' the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway
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Trump tried to 'corrupt' the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

2024-04-23 06:52 Last Updated At:07:00

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump tried to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election by preventing damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public, a prosecutor told jurors Monday at the start of the former president's historic hush money trial.

"This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election — to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior, using doctored corporate records and bank forms to conceal those payments along the way,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

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Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump tried to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election by preventing damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public, a prosecutor told jurors Monday at the start of the former president's historic hush money trial.

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the media after the first day of opening arguments in his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court for falsifying documents related to hush money payments, in New York, NY, on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Victor J. Blue/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the media after the first day of opening arguments in his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court for falsifying documents related to hush money payments, in New York, NY, on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Victor J. Blue/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump, left, listens as assistant district attorney Matthew Coalangelo, right, gives opening statement to jury with Judge Juan Merchan presiding in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former President Donald Trump, left, listens as assistant district attorney Matthew Coalangelo, right, gives opening statement to jury with Judge Juan Merchan presiding in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Donald Trump, right, sits at defense table during Judge Merchan's reading of his ruling and instructions to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Donald Trump, right, sits at defense table during Judge Merchan's reading of his ruling and instructions to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

This artist depiction shows defense attorney Todd Blanche pointing at former President Donald Trump while giving his opening statement to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

This artist depiction shows defense attorney Todd Blanche pointing at former President Donald Trump while giving his opening statement to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former President Donald Trump, followed by his attorney Todd Blanche, left, exits the courtroom following proceedings in his trial, Friday, April 19, 2024, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump, followed by his attorney Todd Blanche, left, exits the courtroom following proceedings in his trial, Friday, April 19, 2024, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

FILE - Former President Donald Trump attends jury selection at Manhattan criminal court in New York, April 15, 2024. Trump's criminal hush money trial involves allegations that he falsified his company's records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped bury negative stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. He's pleaded not guilty. (Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump attends jury selection at Manhattan criminal court in New York, April 15, 2024. Trump's criminal hush money trial involves allegations that he falsified his company's records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped bury negative stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. He's pleaded not guilty. (Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

A defense lawyer countered by assailing the case as baseless and attacking the integrity of the onetime Trump confidant who's now the government's star witness.

“President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney’s office should never have brought this case,” attorney Todd Blanche said.

The opening statements offered the 12-person jury — and the voting public — radically divergent roadmaps for a case that will unfold against the backdrop of a closely contested White House race in which Trump is not only the presumptive Republican nominee but also a criminal defendant facing the prospect of a felony conviction and prison.

It is the first criminal trial of a former American president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury. Befitting that history, prosecutors sought from the outset to elevate the gravity of the case, which they said was chiefly about election interference as reflected by the hush money payments to a porn actor who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump.

“The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” Colangelo said.

The trial, which could last up to two months, will require Trump to spend his days in a courtroom rather than on the campaign trail, a reality he complained about Monday when he lamented to reporters after leaving the courtroom: “I’m the leading candidate ... and this is what they’re trying to take me off the trail for. Checks being paid to a lawyer."

Trump has nonetheless sought to turn his criminal defendant status into an asset for his campaign, fundraising off his legal jeopardy and repeatedly railing against a justice system that he has for years claimed is weaponized against him. In the weeks ahead, the case will test the jury's ability to judge him impartially but also Trump's ability to comply with courtroom protocol, including a gag order barring him from attacking witnesses, jurors, trial prosecutors and some others.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — a charge punishable by up to four years in prison — though it’s not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg revisits a years-old chapter from Trump’s biography when his celebrity past collided with his political ambitions and, prosecutors say, he scrambled to stifle stories that he feared could torpedo his campaign.

The opening statements served as an introduction to the colorful cast of characters that feature prominently in that tawdry saga, including Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who says she received the hush money; Michael Cohen, the lawyer who prosecutors say paid her; and David Pecker, the tabloid publisher who agreed to function as the campaign’s “eyes and ears" and who served as the prosecution's first witness on Monday.

Pecker is due back on the stand Tuesday, when the court will also hear arguments on whether Trump violated Judge Juan Merchan's gag order with a series of Truth Social posts about witnesses over the last week.

In his opening statement, Colangelo outlined a comprehensive effort by Trump and his allies to prevent three separate stories — two from women alleging prior sexual encounters — from surfacing during the 2016 presidential campaign. That undertaking was especially urgent following the emergence late in the race of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump could be heard boasting about grabbing women sexually without their permission.

Colangelo recited Trump’s now-infamous remarks as Trump looked on, stone-faced.

“The impact of that tape on the campaign was immediate and explosive,” Colangelo said.

Within days of the “Access Hollywood” tape becoming public, Colangelo told jurors that the National Enquirer alerted Cohen that Stormy Daniels was agitating to go public with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

“At Trump’s direction, Cohen negotiated a deal to buy Ms. Daniels’ story in order to prevent American voters from learning that information before Election Day,” Colangelo told jurors.

But, the prosecutor noted, “neither Trump nor the Trump Organization could just write a check to Cohen for $130,000 with a memo line that said ‘reimbursement for porn star payoff.'" So, he added, "they agreed to cook the books and make it look like the payment was actually income, payment for services rendered.”

Those alleged falsified records form the backbone of the 34-count indictment against Trump. Trump has denied a sexual encounter with Daniels.

Blanche, the defense lawyer, sought to preemptively undermine the credibility of Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to his role in the hush money scheme, as someone with an “obsession” with Trump who cannot be trusted. He said Trump had done nothing illegal when his company recorded the checks to Cohen as legal expenses.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It is called democracy,” not a crime, Blanche said.

Blanche challenged the notion that Trump agreed to the Daniels payout to safeguard his campaign. Instead, he characterized the transaction as an attempt to squelch a “sinister” effort to embarrass Trump and his loved ones.

“President Trump fought back, like he always does, and like he’s entitled to do, to protect his family, his reputation and his brand, and that is not a crime,” Blanche told jurors.

The efforts to suppress the stories are what’s known in the tabloid industry as “catch-and-kill” — catching a potentially damaging story by buying the rights to it and then killing it through agreements that prevent the paid person from telling the story to anyone else.

Besides the payment to Daniels, Colangelo also described other arrangements, including one that paid a former Playboy model $150,000 to suppress claims of a nearly yearlong affair with the married Trump. Colangelo said Trump “desperately did not want this information about Karen McDougal to become public because he was worried about its effect on the election.”

He said jurors would hear a recording Cohen made in September 2016 of himself briefing Trump on the plan to buy McDougal’s story. The recording was made public in July 2018. Colangelo told jurors they will hear Trump in his own voice saying: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Trump denies McDougal's claims of an affair.

The first and only witness Monday was Pecker, the then-publisher of the National Enquirer and a longtime Trump friend who prosecutors say met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower in August 2015 and agreed to help Trump’s campaign identify negative stories about him.

Pecker described the tabloid's use of “checkbook journalism,” a practice that entails paying a source for a story.

“I gave a number to the editors that they could not spend more than $10,000” on a story without getting his approval, Pecker said Tuesday.

The New York case has taken on added importance because it may be the only one of the four against Trump to reach trial before the November election. Appeals and legal wrangling have delayed the other three cases.

Tucker reported from Washington.

Follow the AP's coverage of former President Donald Trump at https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump.

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the media after the first day of opening arguments in his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court for falsifying documents related to hush money payments, in New York, NY, on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Victor J. Blue/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks to the media after the first day of opening arguments in his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court for falsifying documents related to hush money payments, in New York, NY, on Monday, April 22, 2024. (Victor J. Blue/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former President Donald Trump, left, listens as assistant district attorney Matthew Coalangelo, right, gives opening statement to jury with Judge Juan Merchan presiding in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former President Donald Trump, left, listens as assistant district attorney Matthew Coalangelo, right, gives opening statement to jury with Judge Juan Merchan presiding in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Donald Trump, right, sits at defense table during Judge Merchan's reading of his ruling and instructions to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Donald Trump, right, sits at defense table during Judge Merchan's reading of his ruling and instructions to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

This artist depiction shows defense attorney Todd Blanche pointing at former President Donald Trump while giving his opening statement to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

This artist depiction shows defense attorney Todd Blanche pointing at former President Donald Trump while giving his opening statement to the jury in Manhattan criminal court Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump walks next to his attorney Todd Blanche, at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura, Pool)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at his criminal trial at Manhattan state court in New York, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former president Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower on his way to Manhattan criminal court, Monday, April 22, 2024, in New York. Opening statements in Donald Trump's historic hush money trial are set to begin. Trump is accused of falsifying internal business records as part of an alleged scheme to bury stories he thought might hurt his presidential campaign in 2016. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Former President Donald Trump, followed by his attorney Todd Blanche, left, exits the courtroom following proceedings in his trial, Friday, April 19, 2024, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump, followed by his attorney Todd Blanche, left, exits the courtroom following proceedings in his trial, Friday, April 19, 2024, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

Prosecutors to make history with opening statements in hush money case against Trump

FILE - Former President Donald Trump attends jury selection at Manhattan criminal court in New York, April 15, 2024. Trump's criminal hush money trial involves allegations that he falsified his company's records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped bury negative stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. He's pleaded not guilty. (Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE - Former President Donald Trump attends jury selection at Manhattan criminal court in New York, April 15, 2024. Trump's criminal hush money trial involves allegations that he falsified his company's records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped bury negative stories about him during the 2016 presidential campaign. He's pleaded not guilty. (Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP, File)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's attorney general told supporters he skirted the state’s campaign finance laws by inviting another Republican to run against him as a token candidate in next month's primary so he could raise more money for the November general election, according to a recording from a fundraising event.

“I do technically have a primary," Attorney General Austin Knudsen said last week when asked at the event who was running against him. “However, he is a young man who I asked to run against me because our campaign laws are ridiculous."

Knudsen separately faces dozens of professional misconduct allegations from the state's office of attorney discipline as he seeks a second term. He made the comments about his primary opponent during the fundraiser on May 11 in Dillon, Montana, according to the recording obtained by the Daily Montanan, which is part of the nonprofit States Newsroom organization.

In the recording, Knudsen is heard saying that Logan Olson “filed to run against me simply because under our current campaign finance laws in Montana, it allows me to raise more money. So, he supports me and he’s going to vote for me.”

Knudsen’s senior campaign adviser Jake Eaton declined to comment on the recording.

Olson, a county attorney in rural northeastern Montana, denied being recruited by Knudsen. Campaign finance records indicate his filing fee was paid by a longtime Republican operative who is also a Knudsen donor.

The state’s campaign finance watchdog agency, the Commissioner of Political Practices, is investigating complaints filed by the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party that allege an agreement between Knudsen and Olson.

Under state law, a person cannot pay or “promise valuable consideration” to another person to induce them to be a candidate, or to withdraw as a candidate.

Democrat Sheila Hogan's complaints say Knudsen started raising donations exceeding the $790-per person allowed without a primary opponent long before Olson filed on March 11 — the final day for candidate filing.

“Olson is not a legitimate, good faith candidate for Attorney General,” both complaints state.

Eaton, who called the complaint against Knudsen frivolous, said it was “common practice for candidates to accept primary and general contributions and then return the money if there is no contested primary."

He said Democratic attorney aeneral candidate Ben Alke, a Bozeman attorney, was also accepting contributions for the general election.

Alke has received a $100 general election donation from a supporter who also donated $150 to his primary, campaign finance reports show. Knudsen’s campaign has reported more than $91,000 in general election contributions.

Knudsen and Olson have until May 23 to respond to the complaints, although Olson has requested an extension, commissioner Chris Gallus said Friday.

Olson has not raised or spent any money in the race, according to a report filed by his treasurer on Friday.

His April campaign finance report listed a debt of more than $1,500 to Standard Consulting of Helena for reimbursement of his filing fee.

“I did pay Logan’s filing fee and helped him file for office,” Chuck Denowh, a Republican operative and owner of Standard Consulting, said in an email Friday. “I did so because he asked me to.”

Denowh has donated $1,580 to Knudsen -- $790 each for the primary and general elections.

Alke said the professional misconduct allegations and other actions by Knudsen are why he's running for attorney general.

Knudsen is facing 41 counts of professional misconduct on allegations his office tried to undermine the Montana Supreme Court while defending a challenge to a state law about judicial nominations. The Commission on Practice is scheduled to hear the case in mid-July and recommend whether Knudsen should be punished.

Separately, in early 2021 Knudsen ordered the Lewis and Clark County attorney to dismiss concealed carry weapons charges against a man who allegedly threatened a restaurant manager trying to enforce the state's pandemic mask mandate. Knudsen's office later pleaded the case down to disorderly conduct.

In October 2021, a Helena hospital said three unspecified public officials threatened doctors after they refused to treat a COVID-19 patient with ivermectin, a drug for parasites that is not federally approved for the virus. Knudsen’s office later confirmed that he participated in a conference call with hospital executives and that he sent a Montana Highway Patrol trooper to the hospital to talk with the patient’s family after they claimed mistreatment — something the hospital denied.

“This sort of conduct from the chief legal officer and law enforcement officer of the state of Montana is inappropriate and I hope people are paying attention because this is just one of several issues with Austin Knudsen,” Alke said Thursday.

This story has been updated to correct that Democratic attorney general candidate Ben Alke has received a $100 contribution to his general election campaign.

FILE - Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, center, is sworn into office, Jan. 4, 2021, inside the state Capitol in Helena, Mont. Knudsen faces a campaign finance investigation after he told supporters he skirted the state’s “ridiculous” campaign finance laws by inviting another Republican to run against him as a token candidate in next month’s primary so he could raise more money for the general election, according to a recording of a May 11 fundraiser. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File)

FILE - Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, center, is sworn into office, Jan. 4, 2021, inside the state Capitol in Helena, Mont. Knudsen faces a campaign finance investigation after he told supporters he skirted the state’s “ridiculous” campaign finance laws by inviting another Republican to run against him as a token candidate in next month’s primary so he could raise more money for the general election, according to a recording of a May 11 fundraiser. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP, File)

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