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This Week In Lawfare Land: ‘Vindictive Prosecution’

Here’s the latest information you need to know about each prosecution Democrats are waging against the Republican presidential candidate.

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The lawfare crusade against former President Donald Trump continued in Manhattan this week as the criminal trial for alleged “hush money” payments wrapped up its 11th day, in what is expected to be a weeks-long affair. 

But as the criminal trial in Manhattan heats up, the other cases against President Trump have slowed to a halt while appeals and motions are pending, including District Attorney Fani Willis’ case in Georgia over Trump’s questioning of election results, Special Counsel Jack Smith’s Jan. 6 case accusing Trump of conspiracy and obstruction, and Special Counsel Smith’s classified documents case. 

Here’s the latest information you need to know about each case.

Read our previous installments here.

Manhattan, New York: Prosecution by DA Alvin Bragg for NDA Payment

How we got here: In this New York state criminal case, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — who The New York Times acknowledged had “campaigned as the best candidate to go after the former president” — charged former President Donald Trump in April 2023 with 34 felony charges for alleged falsification of business records.

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen paid pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election as part of a nondisclosure agreement in which she agreed not to publicize her claims that she had an affair with Trump (who denies the allegations). Nondisclosure agreements are not illegal, but Bragg claims Trump concealed the payment to help his 2016 election chances and in doing so was concealing a “crime.”

Judge Merchan, a donor to Biden’s campaign and an anti-Trump cause in 2020, has issued a gag order on President Trump generally prohibiting him from publicly speaking on possible jurors, witnesses, and other personnel in this case.

Latest developments: The trial began on April 15, and jury selection was completed on April 19. Lawyers for both sides made opening statements on April 22. 

So far, the jury has heard testimony from David Pecker, a former publisher of the National Enquirer who allegedly helped “catch and kill” news stories about President Trump’s previous alleged affairs; Gary Farro, a banker who worked with Michael Cohen and detailed his financial activity related to the alleged “hush money” payments; and Keith Davidson, the attorney who allegedly negotiated the “hush money” agreements for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

In a line of questions for Davidson that included discussions of Charlie Sheen, Hulk Hogan, and Tila Tequila, Trump’s lawyers highlighted Davidson’s history of striking agreements with celebrities to keep damaging stories out of the media in exchange for large sums of money. Seeking to undermine Davidson’s credibility, Trump’s lawyers painted Davidson as someone who went “right up to the line without committing extortion.” 

On May 2, the prosecution also played a 2016 audio recording of President Trump and his then-lawyer Michael Cohen allegedly discussing the purchase of Karen McDougal’s extramarital affair allegations. 

As of this week, Trump had already been fined $9,000 stemming from 9 alleged violations of Judge Merchan’s gag order. Another hearing on 4 additional gag order violations was held on May 2, and a ruling is still pending. This week, Judge Merchan also issued a written order threatening Trump with jail time for future gag order violations. Trump has continually referred to the gag order as “unconstitutional.”  

Fulton County, Georgia: Prosecution by DA Fani Willis for Questioning Election Results

How we got here: The Georgia state criminal case is helmed by District Attorney Fani Willis and her team of prosecutors — which until recently included Nathan Wade, with whom Willis had an improper romantic relationship. Willis charged Trump in August 2023 with 13 felony counts, including racketeering charges, related to his alleged attempt to challenge the 2020 election results in Georgia.

President Trump is joined by 18 co-defendants, including Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, Sidney Powell, and others. Some of President Trump’s co-defendants have reached plea deals; others have petitioned to have the case removed to federal court, each attempt of which has been denied. A trial date has not yet been set, though prosecutors have asked for a trial to begin on Aug. 5, just a few short weeks after the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. 

Latest developments: A trial date has still not been set, but Trump’s codefendant Harrison Floyd has raised the question of whether Willis has appropriate jurisdiction to bring the case. The argument is that “the proper jurisdiction for election-related violations lies with the state election board,” not a district attorney. Judge McAfee denied Floyd’s motion challenging Willis’ jurisdiction but allowed Floyd to escalate the question to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Southern District of Florida: Prosecution by Biden DOJ for Handling of Classified Documents

How we got here: In this federal criminal case, special counsel Jack Smith and federal prosecutors with Biden’s Justice Department charged former President Trump in June 2023 with 40 federal charges related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence. The trial is set to begin on May 20, 2024, though this date is expected to be pushed back.

Additionally, venue matters: The trial is currently set to take place in Fort Pierce, Florida, in a locality that heavily backed President Trump in the 2020 election. If that remains unchanged, the demographics of the jury pool may result in a pro-Trump courtroom.

Latest Developments: In a motion filed on May 2, President Trump’s lawyers asked that this case be dismissed due to “vindictive prosecution.” Trump’s lawyers highlighted that former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden have held onto classified documents — but neither was charged. Trump’s lawyers argued that the selective prosecution of President Trump is “vindictive” and due to political bias. Judge Aileen Cannon has not yet ruled on this motion. 

Washington, D.C.:  Prosecution by Biden DOJ for Jan. 6 Speech

How we got here: In this federal criminal case, special counsel Jack Smith and federal prosecutors charged former President Trump in August 2023 with four counts of conspiracy and obstruction related to his actions on Jan. 6, 2021. President Trump’s lawyers have argued that immunity extends to actions taken by a president while acting in his official capacity and that, in any event, the First Amendment protects his right to raise legitimate questions about a questionable election process.

Latest developments: This case is currently stalled while awaiting a ruling from the Supreme Court on former President Trump’s immunity claim. The Supreme Court held oral arguments on April 25, but it remains unclear when the Supreme Court will issue a final ruling. 

New York: Lawsuit by A.G. Letitia James for Inflating Net Worth

How we got here: In this New York civil fraud case, Democrat Attorney General Letitia James — who campaigned on going after Trump — sued former President Trump in September 2022 under a civil fraud statute alleging that he misled banks, insurers, and others about his net worth to obtain loans, although the loans have been paid back and none of the parties involved claimed to have been injured by the deals.

Following a no-jury trial, Judge Arthur Engoron — whom Trump’s lawyers have accused of “astonishing departures from ordinary standards of impartiality” — issued a decision on Feb. 16, 2024 ordering Trump to pay a $454 million penalty. Trump has appealed this decision and posted a required $175 million appeal bond. The appeals court plans to hold hearings on the merits of the full case in September 2024. 

Latest developments: This case mostly remains on hold.


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