Former President Trump could face multiple charges if he is charged in connection with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D)’s investigation into his role in arranging silence payments to an adult film star.
Trump said he expected to be arrested soon in an investigation that came after his aide Michael Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election because she was willing to go public with her sexual relationship story with Trump. — a case he denies.
Secret payments in and of themselves are not illegal. But it’s the way Trump and Cohen have covered up the payments that got Trump’s former lawyer jailed, and could also land Trump himself in legal trouble.
Cohen used a home-secured line of credit to pay Daniels, making the payment shortly before the 2016 election to debunk the decade-old romance story.
Trump reimbursed Cohen for monthly legal fees that were never disclosed as campaign expenses.
The agreement prompted federal prosecutors to prosecute Cohen, who pleaded guilty and ended up serving a prison sentence on charges related to campaign finance violations as well as tax fraud.
Bragg took on the case after the Justice Department refused to prosecute Trump while he was in office, citing internal guidance limiting prosecution of the incumbent. Bragg’s prosecution will be based on state law.
“It seems unfair, it is true that Cohen went to jail for what he was ordered to do, and the actual ringleader in this case would have escaped any prosecution,” said Joshua Stanton, a lawyer for Perry Guh, who recently wrote an analysis of the case. happening.
“However, there are more actual and legal risks at the state level.”
Lawyers suggest that Trump’s indictment is likely to focus on allegations of falsifying business records, but moving that from a misdemeanor to a felony could be difficult.
A felony charge requires a link to a second offense and increases the maximum prison sentence from one year to four years.
State laws prohibit making “false entries in business records,” something that Trump and Cohen may have violated by claiming the payments were for legal services that were never provided.
It’s not uncommon for the New York City Attorney’s Office to charge.
A review From 15 years of criminal cases, it is found that the statute has been used in various cases where business owners falsified records in an attempt to evade taxes, collect workers’ compensation or receive unemployment benefits.
In January, Bragg’s office carpentry company owner charged on felony charges, linking alleged falsified records to insurance fraud and conspiracy charges.
But attempting to make falsification of business records a felony by tying the silence payment to Cohen’s campaign finance violation — a federal crime — would put the local prosecutor in a tough spot.
While Cohen pleaded guilty to making excessive campaign contributions — a sign that the Justice Department viewed the Daniels payment as campaign expenses — joining them in the case would start a debate about whether any federal campaign violations could be considered offense in New York. law.
“I don’t see this as a problem because the law doesn’t require it to be a state crime. It just indicates an intent to commit another crime,” said Anna Kominsky, director of the New York Law School Criminal Defense Clinic.
Bragg has a number of state statutes at his disposal, such as state tax and campaign finance laws, to potentially prosecute Trump.
If he chooses the tax route, Bragg will likely look to see if Trump took advantage of the reimbursement tax deduction, counting it as legal fees.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg walks out of court after a jury found the Trump Organization guilty of all counts of criminal tax fraud Tuesday, December 6, 2022, in New York City. (AP Photo/Yulia Nikhinson, file)
“If this was taken as a business deduction for legal fees by Donald Trump, it could be a false statement about his taxes. We don’t know all the facts about it, but it might actually be easier to prove than some of the campaign finance crimes,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, who wrote a memorandum on the potential prosecution. .
Prosecuting a felony under state campaign laws can lead to other complications. State Campaign Finance Laws repressed when federal campaign finance regulations apply.
While state law prohibits any campaign contribution cap evasion, the use of these laws is not straightforward as another campaign finance law states that they “should not apply to any candidate” when they are also required to apply for federal level.
That leaves a law outlawing “collusion to promote or prevent an election,” which experts say Trump may have violated, as well as a comprehensive law in New York’s code for election violations “not specifically covered” elsewhere.
“The trick here is what we guess,” Kominsky said of the possible allegations. “We don’t know what was actually presented to the grand jury.”
Bookbinder said that without seeing the evidence, it’s hard to know which is better, taxes or campaign fees. However, he noted that Bragg’s slow and steady handling of the case suggests that he will not move forward without carefully weighing every possible Trump defense.
“It looks like there were federal felonies. The Justice Department didn’t go after them, partly because you had Attorney General Bill Barr doing a lot of things that served Donald Trump’s interests,” he said.
“So, the District Attorney of Manhattan comes to you and tries to find out if there is something that could be brought in at the state level. And here we have to make a fair amount of guesswork. My general opinion is that he would not have moved forward unless he had really good evidence to somehow overcome the defenses of at least one of these theories.
Trump denied the validity of any possible charges leveled against him, repeatedly writing on his social media website that “THE WERE NO CRIME!!!”
“There was also no ‘misconduct’ here,” he said in another post.
While the grand jury convening suggests that Bragg’s office is eyeing a felony, it’s possible that Bragg could simply bring misdemeanor charges against Trump.
If the grand jury finds there is insufficient evidence of a crime, they may also have Bragg initiate a misdemeanor case instead.
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Stanton dismissed some commentators’ idea that “you shouldn’t just accuse Trump of wrongdoing.”
“Even if it’s just a misdemeanor in the end, it’s still a big deal. Because that’s what most people are accused of in the criminal justice system,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to say, ‘Oh, this is political retribution.’ Or something like, “It must be politically motivated just to accuse him of a wrongdoing.” I would say exactly the opposite. It would have been different to treat him if he hadn’t filed a misdemeanor charge when someone else, when there’s evidence, beyond reasonable doubt, that he’s committed a misdemeanor, he’s charged.”
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