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Why the legal arguments are stronger than I thought.

When Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed charges against Donald Trump in 2023, I was very skeptical of his decision. It seemed at the time that other indictments would soon follow, and that they would rest on a much firmer legal basis than this one. However, over the past year, I have come to realize that my initial doubts about Bragg’s indictment were misplaced. It now seems clear that Trump’s trial in New York, set to begin this week, will be the only trial of the former president. criminal trial before the November elections. The three other severe indictments against him in other jurisdictions were unfortunately delayed by a corrupt judge, a foot-dragging Supreme Court, and questionable conduct by a prosecutor in an already complex case. This, combined with Bragg’s excellent pre-trial briefing, significantly strengthened the case for this charge. It is important for American democracy that Trump is obliged to defend at least a few of his alleged criminal conduct before a jury of his peers before Election Day. And there is no reason why this should not be the case in which he is obliged to do so. I am now fully on board.

Start with the facts: Shortly before the 2020 election, Trump wanted to kill a story about his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress. So he allegedly ordered his longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, to pay Daniels, through a front company, for his silence. Subsequently, Trump paid Cohen $420,000 in several installments. But he allegedly concealed the payments by listing them as legal fees for a deposit that did not exist.

Last year, I wasn’t sure if this scheme, while sordid, rose to the level of a crime. I am now convinced that if it is proven that he took these steps, he certainly will. Falsifying business records is, itself, a misdemeanor under New York law, but it is a felony when done with “the intent to commit another crime or to aid or abet.” conceal the commission.” In his indictment, Bragg claims Trump lied about the payments with the intent to violate election law, raising the crime to a felony. Initially, I was suspicious of this theory; What election law, exactly, was the former president trying to violate? The prosecutor’s initial statement of facts was vague on this crucial point, raising the possibility that he could not link the underlying fraud to any state or federal law.

Turns out he could. Bragg convincingly argued that the former president intended to violate at least two election laws: one state and one federal. First, Bragg claimed that Trump and Cohen violated federal campaign law by making illegal campaign contributions (in the form of a reward) at the direction of a candidate (i.e., Trump) . Cohen has already pleaded guilty to this act in federal court, so it is hardly a stretch to accuse Trump of intending to break the law by participating in this crime. Second, Bragg argued that Trump violated a New York election law that prohibits any conspiracy “to promote or prevent the election of any person to public office by unlawful means.” The prosecutor claimed that Trump intended to violate this law by committing fraud in order to ensure his own victory in 2020.

There is nothing particularly creative about these theories; they are not an example of prosecutors stretching the law to its breaking point so that it can accommodate the facts of a questionable case. The application of federal and state election codes, and their interaction with the underlying violation of the New York State Business Records Act, is straightforward. In reality, the only halfway plausible argument Trump could make was that the federal campaign law somehow prevented the use of New York’s own laws to punish election fraud. electoral registers, which means that it would only be responsible for registered crimes. keep violations. Two different judges rejected that claim: Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the state’s trial, and Alvin K. Hellerstein, who rejected Trump’s short-lived play to move the entire case to federal court .

This result is a testament to the strength of Bragg’s case and the legal skills of his office. The district attorney’s briefing in opposition to Trump’s legal objections was masterful. And Merchan’s final order, largely adopting the prosecutor’s reasoning, proved deadly to Trump’s relentless efforts to undermine the legitimacy and integrity of the case. The judge had no patience for the former president’s frivolous arguments and articulated Bragg’s theory of the case with clarity and determination. On the eve of the trial, it now appears that the prosecutors have solid legal bases. They effectively neutralized Trump’s plan to kill the case before it could be tried on the facts.

All of which brings me to the second, more practical reason why I was wrong to doubt Bragg’s indictment: I thought that any trial Trump faced before 2024 would have to be about the election. However, this case East about the election – even if 2016, not 2020. This distinction is important, but not enough to undermine the wisdom of the New York prosecutor’s office.

Clearly, Trump’s criminality during and after the 2020 election, including his work to overturn the outcome through insurrection, is more serious than paying Stormy Daniels. A lot worse; no debate there. Ideally, Trump would first be tried for these alleged offenses, as this is a historic and devastating attack on democracy, culminating in a shocking act of violence. He deserves to be held accountable for these actions in open court, by a jury of his peers, before he has another chance to foment a coup. But thanks to Trump’s persistent efforts to run out of time — too often ceded by SCOTUS — it is now almost inconceivable that he will face such a trial before it is time to vote again.

So what remains is this case. And despite Republican efforts to dismiss it as a mere charade about a past affair and a few mislabeled checks, it really is about elections: more precisely, who gets to follow the rules, and who gets to flout them. Trump’s core belief is that he doesn’t have to follow the rules that govern everyone else. He was operating under this credo when he allegedly funneled money to silence Daniels so he could eke out a victory in 2016. Other candidates, including Hillary Clinton, have followed the laws, including contribution limits and voting requirements. disclosure. Trump would have challenged them without hesitation. The case against Bragg is based on the simple proposition that a rich and powerful man like Trump cannot ignore his legal obligations as a candidate for office in a constitutional democracy. He cannot avoid consequences by asserting, under the guise of various legal doctrines, that he is forever immune from judgment because he was president and because he is rich.

Merchan seems to understand that this basic principle is at stake here – another and final reason why this case has become so crucial: New York’s justice system has proven less susceptible to political interference than the federal courts. In the classified records case, Trump appointed his own judge, Judge Aileen Cannon, who enabled his blatant delays at every turn. In the Jan. 6 case, he appealed to left-wing Justice Tanya Chutkan, whose hard work to keep the trial on schedule was derailed by unjustifiable interference from the U.S. Supreme Court. (And the Georgia lawsuits on Jan. 6 were always way too complicated to go to trial this year, even before the Fani Willis situation blew up.) What’s left is the New York court system, which defied partisan pressure, rejected delaying tactics, and remained committed to the concept of speedy justice. My feeling last year that a federal trial would somehow be more legitimate or nonpartisan was simply wrong. A federal court system within the reach of Aileen Cannon, Clarence Thomas and others like them cannot be more legitimate than the courts of New York.

There is no guarantee that Trump will be convicted in Manhattan. As always, we must trust jurors to take their oath seriously, serve impartially, and determine without fear or favor whether the prosecution has proven all elements of the crime beyond all reasonable doubt. The game is not played against Trump – who, like any other American, will be judged by members of the community where he committed his alleged wrongdoing. He may be found guilty, or acquitted, or risk a mistrial; what is most important at this stage is that he be judged NOW. November is approaching, creating a whole new set of opportunities for criminal election interference. Thanks to Bragg and Merchan, Trump will have to answer for at least one of his alleged past crimes before he has the chance to commit new ones. And it’s a victory in himself.

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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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