Trump indictment as weak as advertised

A long-standing progressive fantasy was fulfilled Tuesday afternoon when Donald Trump was arraigned on criminal charges in Manhattan.

The spectacle of a former president driving in a motorcade to the courthouse and sitting at a defense table surrounded by his attorneys will long be remembered as a symbol of the poisonous politics of the Trump era.

It’d be one thing if there were a clear felony violation that is consistently prosecuted, but the unsealed indictment is as weak as advertised.

The case, we learned, involves not just a hush payment to Stormy Daniels, but to a Playboy playmate Trump also allegedly had an affair with and to a former Trump doorman who claimed (apparently falsely) to know the story of a Trump love child.

Hush payments aren’t illegal. But the reimbursements from the Trump Organization to Trump fixer Michael Cohen were logged as legal expenses. This was misleading and is potentially a misdemeanor. Prosecuting Trump over misdemeanors would be too ridiculous even for Bragg, who campaigned on nailing Trump and showing leniency to street criminals. It would also run afoul of the fact that the statute of limitations has lapsed on any misdemeanor.

So Bragg needed a way to transform the misdemeanors into felonies, which he can do, in theory, if the false business accounting was in the service of another crime. There’s been a great deal of speculation about what that other crime is, and the much-anticipated indictment . . . doesn’t say.

Instead, it catalogues every false business entry, deeming each a felony, in a frowned-upon practice known as “stacking” to try to make an attenuated or relatively minor offense seem more serious through sheer repetition.

Asked why he didn’t mention the other alleged crime in the indictment at his post-arraignment press conference, Bragg said the law doesn’t require its being specified in the indictment. Even he must know that’s absurd. The purpose of an indictment is to put the accused on notice of what crimes he has committed, and this other “crime” that Trump allegedly concealed by misdemeanor records violations is essential to the case; the indictment fails its most basic function by failing to specify it.

At the press conference he held after his subordinates unsuccessfully sought a gag order against the defense, Bragg cited New York election law (which doesn’t apply to a federal race), a plan to make false statements to tax authorities (he didn’t say whether these alleged misrepresentations were ever actually made), and a violation of federal campaign-finance law (although it’s doubtful the payments constitute campaign expenses). If Bragg had evidence that Trump committed state tax or election-law crimes, he wouldn’t hesitate to charge them. And if he really thought he had jurisdiction to enforce federal laws, he’d have proudly cited campaign-finance offenses as the crimes Trump was supposedly concealing.

Bragg is dragging the country through a political and legal melodrama over this?

The next hearing is scheduled for early December, right when the Republican primaries will really start heating up. Reportedly, the prosecution asked for a trial in January, on the cusp of the Iowa caucuses. The defense asked for a delay. But as long as Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination, there is no good time for this proceeding.

Wisely, the judge didn’t impose the aforementioned gag order on Trump. It would have been crazy to try to stop a presidential candidate from discussing a very important public matter, especially when the prosecution is, in effect, constantly making public statements through leaks. That said, Trump’s comments on the case have been typically outlandish and irresponsible.

Trump has surged in the polls with the attention he’s garnered from the case and the sympathy it has won him among Republicans. This dynamic was inevitable, but GOP voters — no matter how much they hate this case — should remember that getting indicted over payments to a porn star is emphatically not a recommendation for the presidency, or an indication of potential strength in a general election. There is a reason that Democrats are all but openly rooting for Trump to win the GOP nomination.

The proverbial “walls” have finally closed in on the former president in this case, and it’s a bad thing for the country and the rule of law.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post