Democrats giddy at Trump indictment, but legal experts warn case is weak

Democrats giddy at Trump indictment, but legal experts warn case is weak

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s Democratic enemies celebrated his unprecedented criminal indictment Thursday, even though legal experts warn that the case appears to be weak.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg apparently secured the indictment under a novel legal theory alleging Trump, 76, falsified business records — in commission of a federal campaign finance violation — through the repayment of a $130,000 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the lead impeachment manager in Trump’s 2020 Senate trial for pressuring Ukraine to investigate the Biden family, described the criminal case as an action that democracy itself demanded.

“The indictment of a former president is unprecedented. But so too is the unlawful conduct in which Trump has been engaged,” Schiff said.

“A nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountable, even when they hold high office. Especially when they do. To do otherwise is not democracy.”

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump’s Democratic enemies celebrated his unprecedented criminal indictment Thursday, despite legal experts warning that the case appears to be weak.

Activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton described the indictment as karma for Trump, who is seeking a 2024 rematch against President Biden.

“All I can say is, what goes around comes around,” Sharpton said in a statement — blasting Trump for his 1980s activism in the Central Park Five rape case.

“It’s not lost on those of us who were there in 1989 that Donald Trump will likely walk into the same courthouse where the Exonerated 5 were falsely convicted for a crime they did not commit,” Sharpton said.

“Let’s not forget that it was Donald Trump who took out full-page ads calling for these five Black and Brown young men to get the death penalty,” the National Action Network founder added.

“This is the same man who’s now calling for violence when he has to go through the same system. The same man will have to stand up in a courtroom and see firsthand what the criminal justice system is like.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) described the indictment as a step toward Congress deciding to bar Trump from holding office, which previously was considered and rejected in the chaotic aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021 US Capitol riot.

“No one in this country is above the law – including former President Trump. Being indicted for falsifying business records with hush money is only the beginning of being held accountable for his crimes,” Bowman said.

Bowman, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, noted that Trump may face additional criminal charges due to federal probes of his actions to challenge the 2020 election results and his handling of classified information after he left office.

“Trump attempted to illegally overturn election results in Georgia and worked to incite the insurrection at the Capitol, both in an effort to overthrow our government to advance his fascist cause,” Bowman said.

“His continued calls for protests following his arrest are just another dog whistle for his followers: destroy our democracy.”

Bowman added: “Republicans will continue to claim this was a political arrest, but they can’t continue to hide behind their lies, misinformation, and racist attacks towards Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. It’s time that we ensure Trump is banned from running for any public office again and from there, finally take action to fix our democracy.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — who controversially exclaimed of Trump in 2019, “We’re going to impeach this motherf–ker!” — tweeted, “No one is above the law. Not even a former, twice-impeached President of the United States.”

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) tweeted, “I will always believe that this twice-impeached former president is a threat to our democracy. This indictment is one of many steps to ensure that we are a country for and by the people, and that no one is above the law.”

Other Democrats claimed they weren’t celebrating the development, which Trump alleged was Bragg “doing Joe Biden’s dirty work.”

“The indictment of a former president is a somber day for America. It’s also a time to put faith in our judicial system,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said in a press release.

Al Sharpton
Al Sharpton described the indictment as karma for Trump as, “what goes around comes around.”
Michael Brochstein/Sipa USA

“As this case progresses let us neither celebrate nor destroy,” Swalwell said. “As the former president continues to call for violence in his name, let all of us, as Democrats and Republicans, condemn his efforts to incite. We are better than that and justice benefits all of us.”

But legal experts say that Bragg may run into difficulty actually winning the case.

The indictment was not immediately released, but according to prior reporting the grand jury was considering indicting Trump under a state law against falsifying business records.

That charge ordinarily is a state misdemeanor with a two-year statute of limitations, but under the reported theory it would be elevated into a felony by alleging it was done in commission of a federal campaign finance violation.

Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court in 2018 and was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes related to the Daniels payment and another to former Playboy model Karen McDougal he helped arrange prior to the 2016 election. 

Jerrold Nadler
Rep. Adam Schiff, who led one of Trump’s impeachments, said “a nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountaable.”
Rod Lamkey – CNP / MEGA

Trump denies having a tryst with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, whom he alleges extorted him in the final stretch of the 2016 campaign.

The indictment may also be related to a $150,000 payment from the National Enquirer to McDougal in 2016 to prevent publication of the details of her own alleged affair with Trump, which he denies.

Former Whitewater deputy counsel Sol Wisenberg said in a TV interview this month that the legal case against Trump was “preposterous,” though Wisenberg said he could support criminally charging Trump for other alleged misconduct.

“The question to ask yourself in a case like this [is], ‘Would a case like this be brought against anybody else, whether he or she be president, former president or a regular citizen?’ The answer is… no,” Wisenberg said. 

“You can debate all day long whether or not… Trump should be indicted related to the records at Mar-a-Lago, whether or not he should be indicted with respect to Jan. 6 incitement of lawless activity… Those are real crimes if they occurred, and he committed them,” Wisenberg added. 

“This is preposterous.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said in a Fox News interview shortly after the indictment Thursday that “[Bragg] is attempting to bootstrap [a] federal crime into a state case. And if that is the basis for the indictment, I think it’s rather outrageous.”

“I think it’s illegally pathetic,” Turley added.

“There’s a good reason why the Department of Justice did not prosecute this case: Because it’s been down this road before. It tried a case against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards arguing that hush money paid to another woman, who bore a child out of that relationship, was in fact a campaign violation. That was a much stronger case, but they lost,” Turley said, referring to federal prosecutors not charging Trump following Cohen’s guilty plea.

“Even if you can bootstrap that dead misdemeanor to something alive, you’re essentially arguing a federal case that the Department of Justice declined. But it’s also a case that requires you to show, if that is the basis of this indictment, that Trump’s only, his sole motive for paying this money or having third-parties pay it was for the election,” he continued.”

Well, that’s the problem from Edwards.

There’s a host of reasons why a celebrity and a married individual would want to hush up an affairs, particularly with a porn star.”

Turley added: “Bragg’s clearly betting on a motivated judge and a motivated juror. You couldn’t pick a better jurisdiction…. [But] under Bragg’s theory, he can take any unproven federal crime and revive a long-dead misdemeanor and turn it into a felony. That’s going to really raise concerns for a number of judges. But once it gets to the appellate level, he’s going to have a particularly difficult time.”

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