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Trump’s Hush-Money Trial Kicks Off With a Defiant Defendant, a Strict Schedule, and Supporters Outside

6 minute read

Donald Trump was defiant and frustrated as he walked out of his first day on trial in New York. It was also the first day any former President had ever been on trial in 246 years of American history. But Trump didn’t dwell on the historic significance of the moment.

Instead he launched a litany of complaints and excuses. He called the hush-money case a “scam” and a “witch hunt” and lit into Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the trial, and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the charges. 

Trump faces 34 counts of fraudulently entering business transactions in order to cover up payments he made to a porn star to buy her silence in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Trump says he didn’t have an affair with the adult film actress Stormy Daniels and pleaded not guilty in the case. 

“We’ve got a real problem with this judge,” Trump said after court adjourned on Monday, wearing his iconic wide red tie and an American flag pin stuck in his jacket lapel. “We’ve got a real problem with a lot of things having to do with this trial including the DA, because you go right outside and people are being mugged and killed all day long and he’s sitting here all day long with about 10 or 12 prosecutors over nothing, over nothing.”

Trump Trial
Supporters of former President Donald Trump outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse for the start of first-ever criminal trial against a former president of the United States. Victor J. Blue for TIME

A week before, Judge Merchan had expanded a gag order on Trump, saying he couldn’t criticize the judge’s family or jurors or court officials. But Merchan and Bragg were still fair game for Trump’s critiques. And, on day one at trial, Trump took advantage. 

Read More: Your Questions About Trump’s Hush-Money Trial, Answered

As jury selection began, Trump took issue with the strict schedule of being a criminal defendant that’s going to keep him in a courthouse in Manhattan, away from the campaign trail and other commitments, likely for more than a month. Trump complained that Merchan would not agree to let him skip the proceedings next week during the Supreme Court’s oral arguments about whether presidential immunity protects him from federal charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith, in one of the three other criminal cases proceeding against him. Trump said he would miss his son Barron’s high school graduation if Merchan didn’t give him permission to be absent in the coming weeks.

But that wasn’t all. Trump also said that being in court for the next few weeks would keep him off the campaign trail and out of key states he needs to win in November’s presidential election. “I can’t go to my son’s graduation, and I can’t go to the United States Supreme Court, or I’m not in Georgia, or Florida or North Carolina campaigning, like I should be, it’s perfect for the radical left Democrats. That’s what they want—it’s about election interference, that’s what it’s about,” Trump said. He didn’t take any questions from reporters and turned around and walked down the hall with his entourage. 

Trump Trial
Opponents of former president Donald Trump protest on the first day of his trial in New York City on Monday, April 15, 2024. Victor J. Blue for TIME

Trump had sat for most of the day inside the stuffy courtroom, as his lawyers sparred with prosecutors over how the trial should run, and the makeup of jurors on the panel that will decide Trump’s fate. Some of the initial decisions on Monday didn’t go Trump’s way. Not only did Merchan say Trump can’t go to the Supreme Court next week and deny Trump’s request that he recuse himself, the judge also decided Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also claims to have had an affair with Trump, can testify in the case and that the prosecution can introduce as evidence National Enquirer articles from 2016 critical of Trump’s opponents, as a way to show a pattern of how the publication had been allegedly helping Trump by buying rights to negative stories and squelching them. 

One ruling that went in Trump’s favor was when the judge decided that prosecutors can’t play the footage from the Access Hollywood tape of Trump describing grabbing women’s genitals. But prosecutors can tell jurors what Trump said.

Outside the courthouse, a crowd of about 100 people milled around under the thin tree canopy of Collect Pond Park. One man had been playing the flute on a bench since early morning. A few people were there to cheer on Trump’s prosecution. Others came by to soak in the historic moment. But most were there to show their support for Trump. One man wore a black T-shirt printed with Trump’s scowling mug shot that read, “Never Surrender!” Overhead flew a flag that read, “Keep America Trump 2028.”

Read More: In Hush-Money Trial, Trump’s Election Is at Stake

Ariel Kohane, 53, wanted to be at the courthouse on Monday to show “my unwavering love and support for President Trump.” Kohane, who wore a “Jews for Trump” T-shirt, predicted that Trump’s prosecutions would gin up more support for him and “backfire on the Democrats.”

Standing nearby, Lou Valentino, 27, thinks Trump is being unfairly tried and has been targeted because he’s running for President. “A lot of the people you see out here are frustrated people, or people that have been supporting Trump for a long time, or people like me that just started supporting him not too long ago,” Valentino says. 

A few had come to show they welcomed Trump being put on trial. Nadine Seiler, 58, traveled 250 miles from Waldorf, Maryland to protest against Trump. She arrived outside the courthouse at 6:30 am, expecting to see throngs of people supporting his indictment and was surprised to find the crowd of anti-Trump protestors swell to just over a dozen by the afternoon. 

Sieler says she’s disappointed by what she perceives as a general lack of concern over Trump and his potential return to office. She thinks people have become more apathetic in recent years. “When democracy goes away and we are not able to protest, we're going to be like, ‘How did this happen?’” she says. “I feel that the reason why Trump is allowed to get away with what he does is because people are not participating in the process.”

Whether Trump likes it or not, he’ll have to participate in his trial for many more weeks to come. 

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Write to Simmone Shah at simmone.shah@time.com