Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Trump’s Hush Money Trial Scheduled for April 15: What This Means for His Political Future

With Hush Money Trial Looming, Trump Faces Mounting Legal Woes That Could Sink 2024 Campaign.

Stormy Daniels
Photo: Jon Viscott

Former President Donald Trump’s long-awaited criminal trial over hush money payments will commence on April 15, according to a ruling by Judge Juan Merchan on Monday. Trump’s legal team had sought a delay to review recently provided documents pertinent to the case. Merchan dismissed claims by Trump’s attorneys that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office was responsible for the late production of materials from the U.S. Attorney’s office, asserting that the prosecution was not at fault for the late disclosure.

Stormy Daniels 

At the heart of the Manhattan case is a payment of $130,000 made to Stormy Daniels by Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. Prosecutors allege that Trump repeatedly falsified business records connected to the payment, disguising it in the Trump Organization’s books as legal expenses. As a result, Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of violating a state law on corporate record keeping fraud.

The case against Trump is being led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who took office in January 2022. Bragg’s office has been working closely with federal prosecutors, who initially investigated the hush money payment in 2018 and ultimately charged Cohen with campaign finance violations. Cohen pleaded guilty to the charges and will be a key witness for the prosecution in Trump’s upcoming trial.

Document Dispute and Trial Date

The lead-up to the trial has been marked by a dispute over documents relevant to the case. Trump’s attorneys filed a request in January for additional material from federal prosecutors, claiming that the district attorney’s office had not received certain documents when it initially turned over material last summer. In response, federal prosecutors handed over said documents in recent weeks, totaling hundreds of thousands of pages.

The sudden influx of new material led Trump’s legal team to seek a delay in the trial, originally set for March 25. They pushed for at least a 90-day postponement and even sought to have the case dismissed entirely. However, Justice Juan Merchan granted only a short delay, setting the new trial date for April 15.

During a pre-trial hearing on March 21, Merchan grilled Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, about the timing of their request for additional documents and the relevance of the material to the case. Blanche argued that the district attorney’s office had improperly failed to seek the information last year and that Trump’s team had waited until January because of federal requirements. However, Merchan appeared skeptical of these claims, expressing frustration with what he perceived as a pattern of misleading interpretations from the defense.

Implications for Trump’s Political Future

The Manhattan case is just one of the four criminal cases Trump is dealing with as he runs for President to avoid facing punishment for his alleged crimes. While the hush money case is the only one with a clear trial date at the moment, the outcome of the case could have significant implications for his political prospects.

If convicted, Trump could face up to four years in prison, although a sentence of that length is unlikely for a first-time offender. More importantly, a conviction would provide even more ammunition for his political opponents and raise questions about his fitness for office. Even if Trump is acquitted, the trial itself is likely to be a major distraction from his campaign and could (and should) damage his reputation with voters.

Trump, for his part, has dismissed the charges as politically motivated and has accused Bragg and other prosecutors of targeting him unfairly. He has also sought to portray himself as a victim of a corrupt justice system, and has used the case to rally his supporters and raise money for his campaign. Obviously, Trump is far from a victim, but this tactic plays extremely well to his base who has bought into his cult of personality. 

The Role of Michael Cohen 

One of the key figures in the Manhattan case is Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer. Cohen played a central role in arranging the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and has since become a vocal critic of his former boss.

In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion, and other charges related to the payment. He was sentenced to three years in prison and served a portion of that time before being released to home confinement because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since his release, Cohen has cooperated with multiple investigations into Trump and his business dealings. He has provided testimony to Congress and has been interviewed by prosecutors in New York and elsewhere.

In the Manhattan case, Cohen is expected to be a star witness for the prosecution. He has intimate knowledge of the hush money payment and the efforts to conceal it, and his testimony could be damaging to Trump.

Trump’s legal team, however, has sought to undermine Cohen’s credibility by pointing to his past crimes and his history of lying to Congress and others. They have also accused him of harboring a personal vendetta against Trump and of seeking to profit from his role in the case.

Judge Merchan Pushes Back

Throughout the pre-trial proceedings, Justice Juan Merchan has expressed frustration with what he sees as delay tactics and misleading arguments from Trump’s legal team.

At the March 21 hearing, Merchan took particular aim at Todd Blanche, Trump’s lead attorney, for waiting until the last minute to request additional documents from federal prosecutors. Merchan noted that Blanche, a former federal prosecutor himself, should have known to seek out the records earlier and not waited for the district attorney’s office to produce them.

Merchan also pushed back against Blanche’s claims that the new documents showed misconduct by the district attorney’s office. When Blanche couldn’t cite any legal precedent to support his position, Merchan angrily reprimanded him, saying, “If you don’t have a case right now, that is really disconcerting, because the allegation the defense makes in all of your papers about the people’s misconduct is incredibly serious. Unbelievably serious.”

The judge’s frustration underscores the high stakes of the case and the intense scrutiny it has attracted. With Trump’s political future potentially on the line, every move by the prosecution and defense is being closely watched and analyzed.

Looking Ahead

As the April 15 trial date approaches, both sides are gearing up for what is sure to be a contentious and closely watched proceeding. Trump’s legal team has indicated that they will continue to fight the charges and to portray the case as a political witch hunt. They are also likely to seek further delays or dismissal of the case, although Merchan’s ruling suggests that such efforts may be unsuccessful.

For Bragg and the prosecution, the focus will be on presenting a strong case to the jury and avoiding any missteps that could give Trump’s team an opening. They will rely heavily on Cohen’s testimony and on the documents they have gathered over the course of the investigation.

Ultimately, the outcome of the case will depend on the strength of the evidence, the persuasiveness of the arguments made by both sides, and the jury as well. If Trump is convicted, it could deal a serious blow to his political ambitions and embolden his opponents. If he is acquitted, it could give him a boost heading into the 2024 campaign and reinforce his bogus claims of persecution by the justice system.

Regardless of the outcome, the Manhattan case is likely to be just the first of many legal battles Trump will face in the coming months and years. With multiple other criminal investigations underway and the possibility of additional charges being filed, the former president’s legal troubles are far from over.