Courtesy of Gage Skidmore, WikiCommons

Former President Donald Trump’s political escapades are far from forgotten, as the memories of his daily performances across international media feel like yesterday. While his two-year ban from social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offered a brief and partial respite, the reality star and politician’s indictment by the Manhattan grand jury on March 31 has thrust him into the spotlight once again.

Facing more than 30 counts related to business fraud, the decision doesn’t bode well for Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, announced in November 2022, for a second non-consecutive term. Although his core ideological followers may be unfazed by the charges, traditional Republicans are defined in part by their various wars against crime. And currently, 38 percent of American voters think criminal charges should disqualify the former President from running again, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll.

Considering Trump’s characteristic flair for the scandalous, it’s fitting that he’s made history as the first former president to be presented with criminal charges. However, with the trial being discussed to take place in spring of 2024, during the throes of his promised campaign, it’s safe to say he’ll be a hot topic – whether or not it’s for the reason he originally hoped.

Courtesy of Carlos Herrero, Pexels

On April 4, Donald Trump made his first appearance in a New York courtroom, where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records connected to three alleged hush-money payments. Included as a beneficiary in these payments is Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, who accepted money from Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. Reportedly, the former president bought the porn actress’ silence to keep an extramarital affair under wraps.

The $130,000 hush-money payment was made by Trump’s fixer, Michael D. Cohen, who said that he did so under the politician’s direction. The fraud arose when Trump, while President, reimbursed Cohen under the classification of a legal expense, even citing a retainer agreement that didn’t exist. Of the charges, 11 counts involve the checks, 11 center on monthly invoices, and 12 involve entries into the general ledger for Trump’s trust.

Artist Alison Jackson, Artwork Featured at The Untitled Space ONE YEAR OF RESISTANCE exhibit, The Untitled Space, January 2018

Falsifying business records is usually charged as a misdemeanor offense. However, the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, wants to prove that Trump’s “intent to defraud” was carried into a second crime to elevate the charge to a felony. During a news conference following the arraignment, Bragg mentioned several potential underlying crimes committed by Trump.

Additionally, prosecutors are attempting to pin Trump with intent to conceal a second crime, with a so-called statement of facts providing a glimpse of what will be revealed in court. For example, the document outlines two hush-money deals involving the National Inquirer, which has longstanding ties to Trump and allegedly made payments to a former Trump Tower doorman and Karen McDougal, a Playboy bunny, on his behalf.

The charges against Trump are all Class E felonies, which are the lowest category of felony offense in New York and carry a maximum prison sentence of four years per count. However, a conviction could also result in the judge sentencing him to probation. And knowing the former President’s tax bracket, it’s not unreasonable to assume the current charges won’t result in substantial jail time. 

Courtesy of Michael Vadon, WikiCommons

Undoubtably, what lies ahead is a long and dubious legal battle. The felony statute of New York’s false records law requires DA Bragg to prove that Donald Trump falsified records to cover up a crime. However, while Bragg has evidence that Trump obstructed federal law, he hasn’t yet built the case for violations of state law. And with a certain degree of uncertainty hanging over the prosecutors, it’s still unclear how a trial will carry out.

Even if the charges against Trump aren’t thrown out on a legal technicality, there’s also the real threat that a majority GOP Supreme Court could decide to shield the former leader from prosecution. After all, three of the nine Justices were nominated and appointed by Trump, proving that he’s built the necessary loyalties in government to protect himself. 

The Manhattan district attorney’s office surely has its work cut out for it in the coming months. However, while Trump may not serve serious jail time, there’s also the looming possibility that this latest stunt has cost him reputability among his core Republican voters. With his public disapproval rate consistently above 50 percent for all of 2023, it’s fair to say that at this point, Donald Trump isn’t the most likely victor. 

Article by Natasha Cornelissen for The Untitled Magazine

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