Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s 34-count indictment against Donald Trump proved even more pathetic than anticipated — so pathetic, in fact, that the “get Trump” crowd will likely soon turn on the Democrat prosecutor.
Yesterday afternoon, the former president and leading 2024 Republican presidential candidate appeared in a New York state courtroom and pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges leveled against him by the Manhattan D.A. The public had to wait longer, however, to learn the specifics of the 34 criminal counts contained in the indictment.
When finally unsealed, the indictment prompted a figurative flipping of the pages, with Americans looking front to back for something real there. But there was none to find.
Rather, for 16 pages, the grand jury indictment merely regurgitated the same statutory buzzwords, alleging Trump violated §175.10 of the New York Penal Law: “in the County of New York and elsewhere,” Trump, “on or about” a specific date, “with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof, made and caused a false entry in the business records.”
The template was then repeated in each count, specifying a different date or business record — sometimes an invoice from Michael Cohen, sometimes an entry in the general ledger of the Donald Trump Trust, and sometimes the issuance of a check. There were three or four criminal counts alleged against Trump for each payment made to Cohen from February through December of 2017, which together stacked up to 34 counts.
Along with the indictment, Bragg also released a 13-page “Statement of the Facts,” but the additional details failed to bolster the charges. On the contrary, the summary made it seem as if Trump’s alleged crime was participating in, what Bragg called, a “catch and kill scheme to suppress negative information.”
“From August 2015 to December 2017, the Defendant orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects,” the statement began. “In order to execute the unlawful scheme,” the summary continued, “the participants violated election laws and made and caused false entries in the business records of various entities in New York.”
But there is nothing unlawful about purchasing negative information to suppress its publication. Yet Bragg called that an “unlawful scheme.” And while the statement noted that the “other participants in the scheme admitted that the payoffs were unlawful,” Braggs did not say why the payments were illegal, or why it would be illegal for Trump to agree to the supposed “scheme.”
In fact, nowhere in either the Statement of the Facts nor the underlying indictment does Bragg identify the other crime Trump supposedly intended to commit. That omission is shocking because for Trump’s alleged falsifications of business records to qualify as felonies, as the indictment charged, the D.A. must prove Trump intended to commit (or conceal) another crime.
Also missing from the indictment is any explanation for why the charges against the former president are not barred by the governing five-year statute of limitations.
Trump’s legal team will likely highlight both these issues in upcoming motions. While Bragg may successfully sidestep initial efforts to have the case tossed, the Manhattan D.A. may never recover.
By leaking the fact that the grand jury had indicted Trump on 34 charges, Bragg raised expectations that something more was at stake than hush-money payments. But there isn’t, and the repetitiveness of the counts reeks of a desperate piling on by the Democrat prosecutor.
Additionally, because the indictment remained under seal until late yesterday, legal experts spent nearly a week dissecting possible theories that could ratchet an alleged falsifying business records criminal charge up to a felony. A consensus quickly formed that, weak as the theory was, Bragg would try to bootstrap a federal election violation onto state law by claiming Trump falsified the business records to conceal campaign finance crimes.
But if that is Bragg’s theory, he sure didn’t do a very good job explaining it, which at this stage was the Manhattan D.A.’s only job: to convince the American public that the evidence overwhelmingly supported his decision to criminally charge the former president of the United States.
Bragg utterly failed in that task, with the actual indictment even weaker than the many imaginary iterations contemplated since the leak. So weak are the charges, in fact, that Bragg may soon find himself abandoned by his fellow Democrats as they attempt to avoid the fallout sure to result from the political targeting of Trump.