Trump hush money trial: Insights from previous high-profile cases

Former President Donald Trump is facing charges related to hush money payments, accused of falsifying business records to conceal payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Here are some similar high-profile hush money cases and their outcomes, providing a glimpse into what Trump might expect as the verdict of his trial is set to unfold. 

RELATED: A guide to Trump’s court cases

High-profile hush money cases


FILE - Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

While Trump’s case is unique, he’s certainly not the first high-profile individual to have faced charges related to hush money payments. Notably, Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, was sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement in payments to silence women alleging affairs with Trump. Cohen's case is often cited as a significant precedent in Trump's ongoing legal challenges.

Charges related to hush money payments have significantly impacted the careers and reputations of those involved. 

Individuals like John Edwards, a former U.S. Senator, faced severe reputational damage despite being acquitted. The scandal effectively ended his political career, including a role as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2004 and a promising candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. 

The misuse of campaign funds to cover up his extramarital affair led to widespread public condemnation and relentless media scrutiny, overshadowing his political achievements. The affair also caused significant personal consequences, including a strained marriage that led to a separation from his wife, Elizabeth Edwards. The long-term impact of the scandal illustrates how even an acquittal can result in lasting damage to both personal and professional reputations.

R. Kelly, the R&B singer, faced a highly publicized legal battle involving allegations of sexual abuse and illicit payments to silence his accusers. Kelly’s case has drawn parallels to Trump’s, with both involving efforts to cover up damaging information and the defense focusing on discrediting key witnesses. The burden of proof rested heavily on the prosecution in both instances. 

Michael Cohen’s case

Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, faced significant legal repercussions for his involvement in hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign. In August 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges including campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and lying to Congress. 

He admitted to arranging payments to Daniels and McDougal to silence their allegations of affairs with Trump, aiming to influence the 2016 election. Cohen was fined and sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Cohen's testimony has been crucial in the ongoing trial against Trump, offering detailed accounts of the payments and the subsequent cover-up efforts. He has described how the payments were made and the involvement of Trump and other associates in the alleged scheme. 

RELATED: Could Trump really go to jail? Does he expect to?

Despite his cooperation with federal investigators, Cohen has been heavily scrutinized by Trump’s defense team, who have tried to discredit him by emphasizing his history of dishonesty and legal troubles, including instances where he lied under oath.

John Edwards’ trial outcome

Edwards, a former U.S. Senator and vice-presidential candidate, faced charges for using campaign contributions to conceal an extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer for his 2008 presidential campaign. In his 2012 trial, Edwards was acquitted on one charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions, while the jury was deadlocked on five other counts, resulting in a mistrial. The Justice Department subsequently decided not to retry him.

Although Edwards avoided prison, the trial severely damaged his reputation and effectively ended his political career. The extensive media coverage and public scrutiny of the affair and the misuse of campaign funds overshadowed his previous political achievements. 

Edwards, once a rising star in the Democratic Party with a compelling personal story and significant support, saw his political ambitions shattered. The scandal not only impacted his professional life but also his personal life, leading to a separation from his wife, who was battling cancer at the time.

R. Kelly’s legal battles

Kelly faced multiple charges, including coordinating hush money payments to silence victims of his alleged sexual misconduct. In 2008, he was acquitted of child pornography charges, partly due to alleged payments made to keep witnesses from testifying. However, his legal troubles resurfaced with more serious charges in subsequent years.

In 2021, Kelly was convicted in a federal racketeering and sex trafficking trial in New York, where he was sentenced to 31 years in prison. He was found guilty of leading a scheme to recruit women and underage girls for sexual exploitation. Additionally, he faced charges in Chicago for child pornography and obstruction of justice and in Minnesota for engaging in prostitution with a minor. His financial struggles and deteriorating health conditions have compounded his legal issues.

Other Notable Cases

  • Silvio Berlusconi: The former Italian Prime Minister was involved in numerous scandals, including paying off witnesses and underage girls to keep quiet about his notorious "bunga bunga" parties. Berlusconi faced multiple trials, leading to several convictions that tarnished his political legacy.
  • Michael Avenatti: Known for representing Daniels, faced multiple charges, including extortion and wire fraud. In 2019, he was found guilty of attempting to extort up to $25 million from Nike by threatening to release damaging information about the company's Nike Elite Youth Basketball League unless they paid him and his client. Nike reported the threats to federal authorities, leading to Avenatti's arrest and subsequent trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to 2.5 years in prison. Additionally, Avenatti was convicted of embezzling funds from his clients, severely damaging his career and public image.

What to expect in Trump’s case

Trump's case is unique because he is the first former American president to face criminal charges. Legal experts suggest that while the charges are serious, the outcomes could differ from past cases due to the unprecedented nature of prosecuting a former president. 

The defense did not attempt to demonstrate Trump's innocence but focused on attacking the credibility of prosecution witnesses. Cohen's testimony placed Trump at the center of an alleged scheme to suppress damaging stories during his White House bid.

The trial's next steps include closing arguments on May 28 and subsequent jury instruction. 

The closing arguments are the final chance for each side to persuade the jury to convict or acquit. The prosecution is expected to highlight supportive evidence, and the defense will emphasize inconsistencies in witness testimonies. The jury will then deliberate, potentially as early as Wednesday, May 29. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.