Outlook Bleak for Prosecution in Trump New York Trial, Experts Indicate
Outlook Bleak for Prosecution in Trump New York Trial, Experts Indicate

By Sam Dorman

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has presented a weak case against former President Donald Trump in New York, attorneys told The Epoch Times.

The contentious trial saw opening arguments from Todd Blanche, President Trump’s attorney, and Manhattan prosecutor Matthew Colangelo. Their statements, although just the beginning, offered a preview into how each side might try to convince the jury later in the trial.

Mr. Colangelo attempted to establish a pattern of behavior in which President Trump purportedly used his former attorney Michael Cohen to quash negative stories about him ahead of the 2016 election.

“This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a coverup,” Mr. Colangelo said. “The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 election, then covered it up.”

Mr. Blanche told the jury that many of the allegations involved—including attempting to influence an election—weren’t crimes.

“The reality is that there is nothing illegal about what happened,” Mr. Blanche argued. He added that testimony would be about things from 2015 to 2017 and asked the jury to “think about whether it rings true and whether what they’re saying is accurate.”

He also attacked the credibility of Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Clifford (also known as Stormy Daniels), the adult performer who allegedly received the purported hush money.

New York Election Law

Mr. Bragg charged the former president with felony counts of falsifying business records, meaning the prosecution has to show that the fraud was done to conceal another crime.

“The prosecution’s opening statement described a conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election, even though Trump hasn’t been charged with conspiracy,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told The Epoch Times.

“This was to tie Trump directly to the illegal activity and to make the false business records a felony instead of a misdemeanor.

“The defense’s opening statement attacked Cohen, Daniels, and Pecker’s credibility.”

Mr. Rahmani was referring to David Pecker—former CEO of AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer—who was the first to testify.

“But it also discussed Trump’s accountant’s expected testimony,” Mr. Rahmani said. “He’ll be the fall guy for booking the $420,000 payment to Cohen as a legal expense.”

Up until the trial, prosecutors were relatively opaque about which campaign-related law they believed President Trump sought to violate. Based on opening arguments and comments from one of the prosecutors, it seemed as though the district attorney’s office would focus on Section 17-152 of New York law.

That portion reads, “Any two or more persons who conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means and which conspiracy is acted upon by one or more of the parties thereto, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, told The Epoch Times that the prosecution’s accusation was “absurd.”

“This is an absurd claim by the New York DA,” he said. “He claims that nuisance settlement payment by Trump to Daniels was a campaign expense and therefore falls within this state statute. But the payment was not a campaign expense under federal campaign finance law; neither the Federal Election Commission (where I served as a commissioner) [nor] the U.S. Department of Justice pursued an action against Trump over this payment.”

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton was also critical, describing the case as “something out of an MSNBC fever dream.”

“It’s an indictment about nothing,” he said.

He added that “this is just an exercise in raw power” and that President Trump had become “a political hostage” during the presidential campaign season.

A similar case came in 2012 when the Justice Department accused former presidential candidate John Edwards of participating in a scheme to violate campaign finance laws through payments to his mistress, Rielle Hunter.

That case ended with a hung jury on multiple counts and acquittal on one. The Justice Department declined to retry the case.

John Shu, a constitutional law expert who served in both Bush administrations, told The Epoch Times that President Trump’s case is different in an important way: Whereas President Trump allegedly used his own money to settle with Ms. Clifford, Mr. Edwards allegedly used funds from other people.

Likelihood of Success

The prosecution received some support from Kristy Greenberg, who served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Writing for MSNBC, she said that the “deception practically leaps off the pages of the documents.”

“Then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen created a shell company to make the hush money payments to Daniels and keep Trump’s fingerprints off the transaction,” Ms. Greenberg wrote. “Finally, there were false monthly invoices to disguise Trump’s reimbursement to Cohen as ‘legal expenses’ pursuant to a retainer agreement that didn’t exist. The documents will clearly outline the criminal scheme to falsify business records to cover up hush money payments.

“Much of this case against Trump will rely on common sense. I expect that jurors’ common sense will tell them that Trump made the hush money payments on the eve of the presidential election to help him win.”

Mr. Blanche similarly told the jury on April 22: “Use your common sense. We’re New Yorkers, that’s why we’re here. You told the court you would put aside whatever view you have about President Trump, the fact that he’s running. If you do that, there will be a very swift non-guilty verdict.”

Criminal defense attorney Keith Johnson was more skeptical, noting to The Epoch Times that the alleged legal violation—falsifying documents—came after the 2016 presidential election.

He said he thinks that the case depends on how jurors view the prosecution and whether they see the case as an inappropriate use of resources.

“I do believe it’s going to come down to whether the jurors will see this as a major breach of trust and confidence,” he said.

Mr. Fitton suggested the prosecutors were “abusing the jury.”

“No jury should be asked to do this type of political show trial,” he said. “They’re probably stressed beyond belief because they’re in the middle of this maelstrom. They’re being abused by the prosecutor and the judge, too, as far as I’m concerned.”

Catherine Yang and Michael Washburn contributed to this report.

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