May 7, 2024

Trump on Trial

The judge in Donald Trump's criminal trial fined him $1,000 and held him in contempt of court for a 10th time on Monday for violating a gag order and warned that further violations could land the former president in jail… Justice Juan Merchan said the nine $1,000 fines he had imposed previously did not seem to be deterring the wealthy business mogul from violating the order, which bars him from speaking publicly about the jurors and witnesses…

“Prosecutors on Monday later showed jurors business records that documented payments totaling $420,000 from Trump to [Michael] Cohen, his former fixer and personal lawyer. Those payments were listed as legal fees, but prosecutors say they were actually meant to reimburse Cohen for paying $130,000 to [Stormy] Daniels to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006.” Reuters

Hope Hicks, a former top aide in the Trump White House, testified Friday that former President Trump told her to deny adult film actress Stormy Daniels' allegations that they had a sexual relationship.” Axios

Here’s our previous coverage of the trial. The Flip Side

See past issues

From the Left

The left argues that Trump is facing serious legal jeopardy.

“One prime example of Trump hurting his own defense is the fact that he will not let his attorneys concede that he had relationships or encounters with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. This pits Trump against those two women in the eyes of the jurors. By not allowing his attorneys to concede that he may have had relationships with these women, Trump will force the jury to believe him or believe them…

“That’s a problem for a defendant who made tens of thousands of false claims in just his four years as president. McDougal’s 2018 interview with CNN suggests she will come across as a credible witness. In the interview, she was reluctant to directly criticize Trump, and answered questions in a slow, careful way. Her emotions appeared genuine as she described that she had a 10-month relationship with Trump.”

Glenn Kirschner, MSNBC

“Hicks recounted for the jury how, after the Daniels story became public, Trump told her he was indeed aware of the payments by Michael Cohen to the porn star to keep her quiet. Trump told Hicks that Cohen had made the payments out of loyalty but without his knowledge — a story Hicks did not credit, given what she viewed as Cohen’s desire for credit and his general lack of charitableness…

“Hicks’ testimony makes plain Trump [made the payments] knowing that they were not payments for legal fees… filling an apparent hole in the DA’s case.”

Andrew Weissmann, MSNBC

Any other defendant who repeatedly violated an order from a judge would expect to face escalating sanctions. Merchan may have little interest in defending expected witness Michael Cohen, whose inability to stay quiet he called out in his previous ruling, but he really does need to defend the jury and other witnesses from intimidation—to say nothing of his need to enforce his own orders…

“Knowing Trump’s true mind is impossible, and some of the reporters best-sourced in his camp say he doesn’t want to be sent to jail. But the former president is behaving like a man who has calculated that getting thrown in the clink for a night or two for the offense of posting some mean things on Truth Social would be great publicity. Even worse for Merchan, that might be right.”

David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“A CNN poll last week found that Americans said by a 17-point margin, 42 percent to 25 percent, that Trump’s conduct in his Manhattan trial had been ‘mostly inappropriate’ rather than ‘mostly appropriate.’ (The poll was conducted before the judge initially found Trump had violated his gag order nine times but after Trump’s offending statements and after the judge rebuked Trump for potential juror intimidation.)…

“The same CNN poll mentioned above provided another instructive finding: Just 34 percent thought Trump was being treated more harshly than most other criminal defendants. That could certainly change if people view throwing him in jail as excessive, but it speaks to how Americans at this point don’t broadly buy into Trump’s claims of persecution and could view such a step as justified.”

Aaron Blake, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is critical of the judge’s rulings, arguing that he is displaying a clear partisan bias.

The right is critical of the judge’s rulings, arguing that he is displaying a clear partisan bias.

“The gag order is ostensibly in place to prevent Trump from threatening witnesses. That is a pretext: Trump hasn’t threatened any witnesses; he has opined that they are terrible people (including, in Michael Cohen’s case, that he is a convicted perjurer, which is true)… Witnesses for the elected progressive Democratic prosecutor Alvin Bragg have not been gagged, so Cohen and porn star Stormy Daniels are free to keep talking about Trump…  

“The judge could easily lean on prosecutors to encourage the witnesses to zip it, but he hasn’t… If Merchan’s real concerns were safeguarding the process and shielding the jury from media coverage of extrajudicial statements about the case, it wouldn’t matter which participants in the trial were stoking publicity. But Merchan targets only one participant, Trump…

Because the prosecution is so unabashedly political, I believe the chances that Merchan will actually jail Trump — despite the line in the sand the judge foolishly drew this morning — are slim. Putting Trump behind bars, even for a day or two, would be politically disastrous for Democrats.”

Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

“[Former Federal Election Commission Chair Bradley Smith] knows what he is talking about, and it seems clear that his expert opinion is that paying off Daniels, no matter what one might think of it, is not a campaign expenditure or donation that [the Federal Election Campaign Act] requires a candidate to disclose. The Trump defense plans to call Smith as a witness…

“But Merchan has forbidden Smith from testifying about most of the issues involved in the case. Among the things Smith might be able to testify about is the novelty of the current Trump prosecution. Merchan will not allow it… Other things Smith might be able to testify about are the FEC’s decision to dismiss a complaint against Trump for this very matter and the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute Trump for the same set of actions. But Merchan said Smith cannot say a word about those matters.”

Byron York, Washington Examiner

“Hicks, who served as press secretary during the 2016 presidential campaign, explained that Trump’s motive for suppressing salacious stories was to protect his wife, Melania.  ‘Absolutely…I don’t think he wanted anyone in his family to be hurt or embarrassed about anything on the campaign.  He wanted them to be proud of him.’ The account by Hicks demolishes District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s primary claim against Trump that he paid porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence with the intent to benefit his campaign…

“With Hicks on the stand, prosecutors dwelled interminably on the infamous ‘Access Hollywood’ tape. It has no bearing on the case, mind you, except to smear Trump with irrelevant and prejudicial information. Merchan’s ruling to permit it as admissible evidence is a reversible error, just as it proved to be in the recently dismissed sex crimes conviction of Harvey Weinstein.”

Gregg Jarrett, Fox News

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