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This Week In Lawfare Land: ‘Deadly Force’

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

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In Manhattan criminal court, President Trump’s legal team rested its case this week, and closing arguments are expected on Tuesday. After closing arguments, the jury will immediately begin deliberating the verdict. This will mark the first time a jury has ever returned a criminal verdict against a former president. 

The criminal cases in Georgia, Florida, and Washington D.C. are still halted while appeals play out. Meanwhile, it was revealed this week that the agents in the Florida classified documents case were authorized to use “deadly force” if necessary when they raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home.

As the lawfare crusade continues, Democrats are now saying the quiet part out loud. On Wednesday, Democrat New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez admitted in an interview that the lawfare against Trump is achieving the goal of keeping him off the campaign trail, referring to the lawfare as a “legal version of an ankle bracelet around him.” This comes after President Joe Biden taunted and fundraised off of President Trump’s legal cases last week.

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 further testimony from the prosecution’s star witness Michael Cohen, a former personal attorney of President Donald Trump. During cross-examination on Monday, Cohen admitted to stealing $60,000 from the Trump Organization. This revelation added to Cohen’s already-illustrious resume of lies and deceit, which includes lying to a Senate committee in 2017, pleading guilty to lying to Congress in 2018, and lying about not committing tax evasion “despite having told a federal judge, U.S. District Judge William Pauley, in court that he had.”

Commentators have widely agreed that Cohen’s testimony was disastrous for Democrat District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump. 

On Monday and Tuesday, defense witness Robert Costello testified. Costello previously represented Cohen and told a grand jury last year that Cohen is a “serial liar.” Costello’s testimony sought to undermine the credibility of Cohen. 

President Trump did not testify. 

On Tuesday, the defense rested its case. Closing arguments and jury instructions are expected on May 28, which would be the final day before the jury begins deliberating the final verdict. 

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 Thursday, Democrat Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis filed an appeal seeking to reverse the trial court’s dismissal of some criminal charges against President Trump. Willis and Judge Scott McAfee both survived primary challenges in Georgia’s elections on Tuesday.

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. In early May, Judge Aileen Cannon postponed this trial indefinitely. 

Latest developments: It was revealed this week that the FBI had authorized the use of “deadly force” during the raid of President Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago, in which agents sought classified documents that Smith claims Trump had mishandled. According to a filing by the Trump team, “The Order contained a ‘Policy Statement’ regarding ‘Use Of Deadly Force,’ which stated, for example, ‘Law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary …’.”

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.

Maricopa County, Arizona: Indictments of Trump Affiliates Meadows, Giuliani, and 16 Others

How we got here: In April, Democratic Attorney General of Arizona Kris Mayes announced the grand jury indictments of former President Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, Boris Epshteyn, and 15 others stemming from the 2020 election. President Trump has not been charged in this case, but he was named as an “unindicted coconspirator.” 

The indictment identified 11 Republicans who allegedly sent false documents to Congress asserting that President Trump won the state of Arizona in the 2020 election. The defendants are also accused of attempting to pressure the Arizona Legislature, then-Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, and the Maricopa board of supervisors to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Arizona.

Legal commentators, including one from The Federalist, have observed that the “fake electors” narrative is baseless given the established history of presidential campaigns preparing alternate electors, including the John F. Kennedy campaign in Hawaii in 1960.

Latest developments: The defendants, including former New York City Mayor and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, were arraigned on Tuesday. They pled not guilty. The trials for Giuliani and former Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward are scheduled for Oct. 17. 


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