A cover-up is worse than a crime, the expression says. In the hush money case against former President Donald Trump, prosecutors say the cover-up made the crime worse.
In an indictment unsealed on Tuesdayprosecutors said 45th president Records about three hush payments were falsified to prevent potentially damaging stories from coming to light during his presidential campaign. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said it was his attempt to cover up crimes related to the 2016 election that allowed prosecutors to upgrade the charge to a felony.
However, the indictment raises many thorny questions about state and federal law that could offer the defense an opportunity to attack the charges in an attempt to drop them before the case goes to trial.
“The bottom line is it’s murky,” said Richard Hasson, an election law expert and professor at the UCLA School of Law. “And the DA has not provided a detailed legal analysis of how they did it, how they got around these potential hurdles. And it could drag on for a long time.”
Trump has slammed the allegations, saying he has done nothing wrong and that the case is a witch hunt.Just hours after speaking at his Mar-a-Lago home after his court appearancehe said, “This bogus case was filed only to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election and should be dropped immediately.”
In the end, this case isn’t about the cheesy details of paying hush money. It’s not about porn actors– stormy daniels — or Trump’s acrimonious relationship with his onetime lawyer-turned-government witness Michael Cohen.
It’s about a presidential candidate using his money and influence to suppress potentially damaging stories that could drive voters to choose another candidate, especially as Trump’s reputation rages over comments while being affected he talks about women.
The 34 counts of falsifying business records are typically misdemeanors, lower-level charges that usually don’t lead to jail time. But they were charged with felony offenses — up to four years in prison — because, Bragg said, they did so to commit or conceal other crimes.
Bragg said the $130,000 payment to Daniels exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap. He also cited a New York state election law that makes it a crime to promote candidates through illegal means.
“That’s what this defendant did when he falsified business records to conceal illegal efforts to further his candidacy, and that’s why we’re here,” Chris Conroy, one of the prosecutors in the case, told the judge Tuesday.
Prosecutors filed a “statement of facts” about their plan to protect Trump’s presidential campaign prospects by buying and suppressing unfavorable information about him. Still, some legal observers were surprised that the indictment itself did not spell out more specifically how each charge escalated to a felony.
“There are a lot of dots here, and it takes a little imagination to connect them,” said Richard Klein, professor of criminal law at the Touro Law Center. Bragg said the indictment did not specify the underlying underlying crime because it is not required by law. But given that Trump’s lawyers might challenge that, “you’d think they’d want something on a firmer footing than some of these things,” said Klein, a former New York City public defender.
Hasson said it was unclear whether candidates for federal office could be prosecuted in cases involving state election laws. The defense could also argue that the case cannot be brought in state court if it involves federal election law.
Prosecutors, however, also cited another charge involving tax law: Trump’s scheme included a scheme to misrepresent the payments to Cohen as income to New York tax authorities.
“They did talk about tax crimes, and I think that might be more convincing to a jury,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said on ABC News. “It’s a much safer bet than campaign finance crime.”
Experts say that while the prosecution’s case is unusual, it is not unwinnable.
Bragg “is going to bring in witnesses who are going to present a lot of documentary evidence to try to prove that all these payments were made to further the presidential campaign,” Jerry H. said. Director of the Voting Rights and Democracy Program at Fordham Law School.
“Whether he can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt remains to be seen,” Goldfeld said. But, he added, “don’t underestimate District Attorney Alvin Bragg and don’t overestimate Mr. Trump.”
Trump’s lawyers have portrayed Trump as a victim of blackmail, who had to make payments to prevent false and embarrassing information from leaking out. But they said the payment had nothing to do with the campaign.
It’s a similar argument to that made by former Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat accused of privately raising nearly $1 million in campaign contributions during his 2008 presidential campaign to hide his pregnant lover. Edwards argued the payment was a private matter intended to be kept secret from his wife. The jury acquitted Democrat on one charge but deadlocked on others. He was not retried.
new york case Just one of Trump’s many legal concerns. Georgia prosecutors are also investigating an attempt by Trump and his allies in the state to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election. Federal prosecutors are investigating whether classified documents were criminally mishandled at Trump’s Florida home and efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of the presidential election.
“A failed prosecution would only allow him to claim that it was a witch hunt,” Hasson said of Trump. “This may lead some to believe that all of the potential criminal cases against Trump are rife with false accusations, while I think the other potential cases involving classified documents, the 2020 election, seem more convincing both legally and factually. force.”
Trump’s lawyers are sure to attack the credibility of Cohen, a convicted liar who is far from an ideal prosecution witness. The disbarred lawyer said Trump directed him to arrange hush money payments to prevent damage to his White House bid.
But Cohen has also admitted to lying in court before, and Trump’s lawyers will no doubt try to use that to their advantage.Cohen Admitted to lying to Congress in 2018 to cover up the fact that he was negotiating the Trump Tower Moscow project on Trump’s behalf during the presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges related to hush money payments in a parallel federal case.
After federal prosecutors declined to charge Trump in hush money case, A former law enforcement official told The Associated Press Prosecutors are concerned about Cohen’s reliability as a witness. Federal prosecutors argued that it was far from clear that Trump would be found guilty of campaign finance crimes even if jurors believed Cohen’s allegations that he directed the hush money payments.
Trump has said he may try to move the case out of Manhattan, writing on social media Tuesday that the case should be held in Staten Island. He called the borough, which is more conservative than the rest of New York City, “a very fair and safe place.”
The former president could also argue that the statute of limitations for most felonies in New York is five years because the hush money payments and Cohen’s reimbursement happened before then.
There are some extensions during the pandemic, and state laws can also stop the clock when potential defendants are persistently out of state. Trump, who rarely visited New York during his four years as president, now lives mostly in Florida and New Jersey. His lawyers are likely to question whether the suspension applies to elected officials serving in Washington.
“This case has some really good issues for the defense to bring,” said New York City defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor Duncan Levin. “It’s not an open and closed case, by any means.”
—Alanna Durkin Richer, Colleen Long and Jennifer Peltz for The Associated Press
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