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This Week In Lawfare Land: Bragg’s ‘Star Witness’ Blows Up His Own Credibility

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

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With the criminal cases in Georgia, Florida, and Washington D.C. slowing to a halt, New York is the only place where the lawfare show — or perhaps circus — has proceeded in any meaningful way. And it was on full display. 

In Manhattan criminal court, the jury heard testimony from the prosecution’s star witness (and admitted liar) Michael Cohen. Cohen’s testimony was so damaging to the prosecution that even CNN’s Anderson Cooper remarked, “If I was a juror in this case watching that, I would think, ‘This guy’s making this up as he’s going along.’” 

As the other criminal cases are stalled, it appears nearly certain that President Trump will not face any additional criminal trials before the November election. And in the meantime, the partisan nature of this lawfare becomes more obvious by the day as President Joe Biden taunts and fundraises off of President Trump’s legal prosecutions

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.” 

The trial began on April 15, and jury selection was completed on April 19. 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: This week, the jury heard testimony from the prosecution’s star witness Michael Cohen, a former personal attorney of President Donald Trump. The prosecution’s theory of the case has emerged as effectively this: any payment made was necessarily a campaign expense, regardless of other purposes. But that theory faces a critical challenge: were such a payment made with campaign funds, it would likely have faced scrutiny from the Federal Election Commission and potentially the Department of Justice as a personal expense. 

During cross-examination, the truth-challenged Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress about past real estate dealings in Russia and lied under oath when he entered a guilty plea for federal criminal charges. 

Cohen then testified that he previously informed a prosecutor that Stormy Daniels and her lawyer seemed to be extorting President Trump for a payment of $130,000 in exchange for suppressing the story about the alleged affair. Jurors also heard clips from Cohen’s podcast in which Cohen engaged in unhinged rants about the former president. In one podcast clip, Cohen said he hopes “that this man [Trump] ends up in prison” and “revenge is a dish best served cold.” Cohen continued, “You better believe that I want this man [Trump] to go down.”

Trump’s lawyers were quick to highlight Cohen’s obvious biases for the jury. In the opening of his cross-examination, defense counsel Todd Blanche said: “Mr. Cohen, my name is Todd Blanche and you and I have never met. You went on TikTok and called me a ‘crying little sh-t.’”

While Cohen’s testimony was meant to support the prosecution’s case, it seemed to backfire immensely. Cohen will continue testifying on Monday, May 20. 

[READ NEXT: 3 Moments ‘Star Witness’ Michael Cohen Just Undermined Bragg’s ‘Get Trump’ Case]

It is unclear whether President Trump will testify in his own defense. On Thursday, Blanche said, “That’s another decision that we need to think through.” This week, Trump’s lawyers also filed a notice of appeal to the state’s highest court to challenge his gag order. 

At the courthouse this week, many Republican politicians showed their support for President Trump by attending and speaking in support. Former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, Speaker Mike Johnson, Sen. J.D. Vance, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, and Reps. Nicole Malliotakis and Cory Mills showed up at the courthouse earlier this week to support President Trump. A broader swath of the House Republican Caucus followed on Thursday, including Reps. Michael Waltz, Ralph Norman, Eli Crane, Andy Ogles, Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, Anna Paulina Luna, Bob Good, and Matt Gaetz.

Closing arguments in this case could begin as early as Tuesday, May 21. 

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: On May 16, President Trump formally filed his notice of appeal to overturn Judge Scott McAfee’s decision to allow Democratic District Attorney Fani Willis to remain on the case. The Georgia Court of Appeals will now determine whether Willis can stay on the case. Commentators have observed that the appeal could be decided as early as August 2024 or as late as spring 2025. 

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 was set to begin on May 20, 2024, but this date has now been postponed indefinitely. 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: This trial is indefinitely postponed after Special Counsel Jack Smith and other prosecutors admitted to tampering with evidence.

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.

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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