A courtroom sketch shows Donald Trump, left, listening as assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo gives his opening statement to the jury
A courtroom sketch shows Donald Trump, left, listening as assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo gives his opening statement to the jury © Reuters

This is an onsite version of the US Election Countdown newsletter. You can read the previous edition here. Sign up for free here to get it on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Email us at electioncountdown@ft.com

Good morning and welcome to US Election Countdown. Today we’re getting into:

  • Opening arguments in Trump’s “hush money” trial

  • What does it take to win Pennsylvania?

  • How much Trump is spending on legal fees

Manhattan prosecutors launched their opening salvo against Donald Trump yesterday, saying he tried to “corrupt” the 2016 election by getting his team to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels, who was threatening to go public with claims of an affair, to the tune of $130,000.

During his opening argument, assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo described the “catch and kill” plot allegedly orchestrated by Trump and his inner circle to “conceal his and others’ criminal conduct” [free to read]. He added:

This was a planned, co-ordinated, long-running conspiracy . . . to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures . . . It was election fraud, pure and simple.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said the former president was “cloaked in innocence” and was just trying to protect his family, brand and reputation. Blanche added that Trump had “nothing to do” with how the payment was set up and was “not on the hook” for how it was recorded.

“You will learn the companies do that all the time,” Blanche told jurors, adding: “There is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election — it is called democracy.”

The jury also heard from the first witness, National Enquirer’s former publisher, David Pecker. Prosecutors alleged that Pecker was involved in the scheme by buying exclusive rights to anti-Trump stories and preventing them from being published.

Trump, who tried to downplay his rage as he glowered silently, is frustrated that his legal obligations are keeping him off the campaign trail. He did, however, say it was “very unfair” that he was at the courthouse “instead of being able to be in Pennsylvania and Georgia and lots of other places campaigning”.

While Trump appeared to doze off during a tedious jury selection process last week, Joe Biden was in the Keystone State. And today, the president will visit Trump’s adopted home state of Florida, one week before its new six-week abortion ban goes into effect.

Campaign clips: the latest election headlines

  • Republican US Speaker of the House Mike Johnson finally pushed through new aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, which Biden plans to sign into law, after Trump and his hardline supporters in Congress had obstructed its passage. 

  • Trump is courting Black and Latino voters, and some residents of New York’s historic Harlem neighbourhood are listening. [Free to read]

  • With his criminal trial, Trump’s complicated relationship with law enforcement is on display. (NYT)

  • Trump is becoming angrier and more isolated on social media. (Washington Post)

Behind the scenes

Biden and Trump are neck-and-neck in Pennsylvania, which is arguably the most important swing state in this election due to its high electoral vote count. To stay in the White House, Biden will probably need to hold on to the state.

And Trump won’t let Biden win Pennsylvania without a fight. He’s tailoring his messaging to the state’s blue-collar workers by going after the president’s energy policies.

Trump played his greatest hits at recent Pennsylvania rallies — immigration, his legal issues, and inflation — but he got his loudest cheers when he told the crowd he’d get rid of Biden’s ban on new natural gas exports, according to the FT’s Jamie Smyth. The shale gas industry is a large employer in Pennsylvania, which produces a fifth of the country’s natural gas. 

Biden loves to call himself the US’s most pro-union president, and to tell blue-collar voters that he cares more about them than Trump does. Democrats, however, are clearly struggling to reach these types of voters in Pennsylvania.

As the FT’s Derek Brower, who was at Trump’s rally in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, last week, told us:

If James Carville, the Democratic strategist, was right when he described Pennsylvania as “Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with Alabama in between”, this was a crowd from the in-between part: rural poor, transfixed by a New York billionaire and his promises of more tax cuts. 


Trump’s legal fees have cost donors $76mn, accounting for more than a quarter of all the money the former president has raised since January 2023.

While his legal issues drain his campaign coffers, Biden’s political groups have raised a lot more than Trump — $413mn to the Republicans’ $326mn — according to the latest federal campaign finance disclosures [free to read]. Biden groups also have $188mn in cash on hand compared with the $122mn held by their Trump counterparts, meaning the president’s cash advantage is greater than the Republicans’ legal bills. 

Trevor Traina, a Trump donor who was the former president’s US ambassador to Austria, told the FT that the next fundraising report would “tell a very different story”. He also claimed that Trump’s shrinking base of small-dollar donors was struggling under inflation.

The Democratic party’s fundraising committees are also in better shape than those of the Republican party, with about $157mn in cash on hand versus $114mn, respectively.

A Biden campaign spokesperson said:

Donald Trump simply cannot keep up with Joe Biden: he’s too lazy to campaign, too toxic to generate enthusiasm or grassroots support, and too obsessed with his own personal revenge and retribution to expand his coalition . . . Open your eyes, Donald, the campaign has begun.


  • Constanze Stelzenmüller noted that the bipartisanship exhibited by US lawmakers over Ukraine aid at the weekend was an anomaly.

  • In the Swamp Notes newsletter, Peter Spiegel calls the US campaign finance system “one of the most corrupting features of a modern democracy anywhere in the world”. [Available for Premium subscribers]

  • Trump’s fears of facing the potential consequences of a criminal conviction are very real, writes David Axelrod. (The Atlantic)

  • Biden’s Middle Eastern acrobatics would make Henry Kissinger blush as the president tries to restrain both Israel and Iran, says Edward Luce.

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