April 17, 2024

Trump on Trial

“The first seven jurors were selected on Tuesday to serve on Donald Trump's hush-money criminal trial, as the selection process continues to choose a panel of 12 members and six alternates who can be fair to the former U.S. president… “Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. Daniels says she had a sexual encounter with Trump about a decade beforehand.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left is divided about the seriousness of the charges.

“Let’s review. In October 2016, Trump was reeling from the release of the devastating ‘Access Hollywood’ tape, where he boasted about grabbing women between their legs because, in his words, ‘when you’re a star, they let you do it.’ The country was outraged. His support was crumbling. Key Republican elected officials announced they wouldn’t support him…

“The money was wired to Daniels’s attorney on Oct. 27 and the non-disclosure agreement was signed the next day… Of course we’ll never know, but given that the election was less than two weeks away and people still recalled what Trump said about assaulting women, another display of infidelity — this time with a porn star mere months after his son Barron was born — might have pushed enough voters over to Clinton to have changed the election result.”

Jason Steinbaum, The Hill

“A conviction in this case will demonstrate something to Americans that we’ve not yet seen: No one, not even Donald Trump, is above the law. But to some extent, just holding the trial is a signal that if you commit a crime in this country, no matter how much wealth and power you have, you will face the same system of justice as the rest of us…

“It will show, contrary to how many of us have experienced the past nine years of American political life, that Trump is not on some special plane, untouchable by the same laws that maintain order among and for the rest of us. Specifically, Trump cannot hire a fixer (Cohen) to pay off a woman whom he had an affair with in order to keep it secret from the American public and win an election, then watch the fixer suffer all the consequences—including years of prison and house arrest—without any ill befalling Trump himself.”

Jeremy Stahl, Slate

Others argue, “The 34 charges are specifically about whether, when Trump later repaid Cohen for that money, the Trump Organization falsely logged [the hush money] payments as ‘legal expenses’ in company records. That false labeling, prosecutors allege, is the crime here. Compared to trying to steal the 2020 election or hoarding documents with national security secrets, this doesn’t seem like the most substantively important topic.”

Andrew Prokop, Vox

“Although the New York case gets packaged as election interference, failing to report a campaign payment is a small potatoes campaign-finance crime. Willfully not reporting expenses to cover up an affair isn’t ‘interfering’ with an election along the lines of trying to get a secretary of state to falsify vote totals, or trying to get a state legislature to falsely declare there was fraud in the state and submit alternative slates of electors…

“We can draw a fairly bright line between attempting to change vote totals to flip a presidential election and failing to disclose embarrassing information on a government form. If every campaign finance disclosure violation is election interference, our system is rife with it… Calling [this] election interference actually cheapens the term and undermines the deadly serious charges in the real election interference cases.”

Richard L. Hasen, Los Angeles Times

From the Right

The right criticizes the charges, arguing that they are legally quite weak.

The right criticizes the charges, arguing that they are legally quite weak.

“Trump is, essentially, charged with documentation fraud — claiming payment for a past debt was a legal fee. However, the statute of limitations is well past the time to charge Trump with that. So, the New York District Attorney has decided to elevate the issue to a felony and get it within the statute of limitations. To do this, Alvin Bragg has to accuse Trump of engaging in documentation fraud to hide an underlying crime…

“The underlying crime is a federal campaign finance violation. That violation is Trump paying off the porn star through his lawyer and failing to disclose it on his campaign finance forms because it was a campaign-related expense. It was a campaign expense because if Trump had not paid off Stormy Daniels, she could have gone public and cost Trump the election. Yes, the left argues that the man who, on video, said he could grab women by their you-know-what would have been undone by this revelation.”

Erick-Woods Erickson, Substack

“FECA specifically prohibits the conversion of campaign funds to personal use… A candidate cannot use a campaign contribution to buy an expensive watch, no matter how good it will make him look on the campaign trail or how much it will help him stay on schedule. He can’t buy a cashmere top coat, even if he feels he needs it for door-to-door campaigning in the wintry cold of the New Hampshire primary…

“Closer to home, a business man/candidate could not use campaign funds to pay bonuses to employees, even if his primary purpose was to burnish his image as a benevolent employer to enhance his electoral prospects. A candidate cannot use campaign funds to pay a lawyer to seal divorce records or settle lawsuits against companies he might own, even if the primary purpose is to keep information out of the limelight ‘for the purpose of influencing the election.’…

“Herein lies the most frightening part of this prosecution: Had Trump made these payments with campaign funds, it seems a near certainty he would now be facing criminal charges for a knowing and willful diversion of campaign funds to pay personal obligations. If Bragg’s prosecution is successful, it will mean a candidate can use campaign funds to pay almost any obligation that, the candidate might argue, would benefit his candidacy.”

Brad Smith, The Federalist

“Lawyers have been scouring the civil and criminal codes for any basis to sue or prosecute Trump before the upcoming 2024 election… They’ve charged him with everything short of ripping a label off a mattress… Once again, the contrast to other controversies is telling…

“Before the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign denied that it had funded the infamous Steele dossier behind the debunked Russian collusion claims. The funding was hidden as legal expenses by then-Clinton campaign general counsel Marc Elias (the FEC later sanctioned the campaign over its hiding of the funding)… Times reporter Maggie Haberman declared, ‘Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.’… Yet, there were no charges stemming from the hiding of the funding.”

Jonathan Turley, New York Post

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