While prosecutors in New York are reportedly preparing to indict former US President Donald Trump, lawyers and political pundits are publicly questioning the wisdom of doing so, arguing that it could undermine future larger cases against him.
Mr. Trump is currently under investigation in multiple jurisdictions for everything from his handling of classified documents to his behavior after losing the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden.
He seems to be facing the biggest legal danger in Georgiawhere prosecutors are investigating his attempts to pressure the election commissions to falsely declare him the winner of the state.
But the first charge against him is coming from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which is investigating him for conspiring to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels a silence money ahead of the 2016 election.
Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who is now an outspoken critic of his former bosshas already been convicted of violating campaign finance laws by paying Ms. Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump.
Cohen has long claimed that he was instructed by Mr. Trump to make illegal payments. The former president continues to deny that he ever had an affair with Ms. Daniels.
Of all the charges that could potentially be brought against Mr. Trump as a result of a series of investigations against him, this is perhaps the least serious. And Trump’s political opponents fear he could use this to challenge the legitimacy of any other looming allegations.
White House Politico Bureau Chief Jonathan Lemire says Trump’s opponents, including “high-ranking members of the White House,” are “concerned.”
“(They) fear that because this is the weakest case, that if it is filed first, it will potentially allow Trump to then present this case as illegitimate and then assume that all other cases against him are also illegal. That’s what they’re worried about,” Lemire, who is also an MSNBC host, said on the air.
We cannot know all the details of the case until the actual charge is filed, though it will depend on Mr. Trump’s alleged attempts to hide payments to Ms. Daniels.
He can be charged with an administrative offense for falsifying business records (the allegation is that he tried to hide the payments by classifying them as something else). More seriously, Mr. Trump could also be charged with a felony for falsifying documents to cover up another crime (the other crime being campaign finance violations).
A serious crime would be more difficult to prove because Washington Post newspaper Ruth Marcus explained to some extent.
“Look, I’m not saying that Trump can’t be prosecuted, but I think it’s odd, and generally lucky for Trump, that the first of many potential charges against him could be the weakest of all,” another political observer. , Mehdi Hasansaid.
Similar opinions were expressed by experts in the field of law.
“This one is probably the least dangerous in terms of jail time. It’s also a little tricky (for prosecutors) because it’s older,” former U.S. Attorney Shang Wu told CNN when asked how the case could fit in with others.
“That would be low on the radar screen. The case in Georgia is much more developed, and obviously the January 6 and Mar-a-Lago secret documents cases are massive, drawn-out investigations with very serious consequences.”
U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg offered a slightly different perspective and an alternative definition of “weak” during an interview with MSNBC.
“People keep calling the New York case the weakest case. For me, as a former prosecutor, “weak” means a case where there is little evidence, or perhaps you don’t have a reasonable chance of being convicted,” Mr. Rosenberg said.
“I think they may mean that this is a less serious case. And how serious the case is reflected in how it is classified or classified. In this case, under New York State law, it’s an offense. This is admittedly less serious.
“That doesn’t make him weak. If you look at it from a prosecutor’s point of view, you will present your case when it’s ready. Thus, it would be a political decision to bring it too early for some other purpose, or to wait for some other purpose.
“If the case is ready, and you, as Manhattan’s elected attorney, think it’s an appropriate charge, you file it. It may be less severe than other cases, but that doesn’t make him any weaker.”
Trump’s political allies, for their part, attacked District Attorney Alvin Bragg in advance and accused him of politically motivated persecution of the former president.
“Lawyer after lawyer after lawyer will tell you this is the weakest case,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the highest-ranking Republican in Congress, said Sunday.
“The last thing we want is for someone to put their thumb on the scales simply because they don’t agree with someone’s political views. That’s what’s wrong, and that’s what drives people crazy. And it won’t go to court.”
At a press conference, Trump’s most likely challenger for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, managed to do the same and also lambasted Trump’s behavior.
“I don’t know what it’s like to pay a porn star to keep silent about some alleged affair, I just can’t talk about it,” Mr. DeSantis said.
“But what I can say is that if you have a prosecutor who ignores crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction and he decides to go back many years to try and use something about paying a porn star to keep quiet, that is an example of persecuting a political agenda.”
Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, with whom he fell out, warned that the prosecution in New York would be “political in nature.”
And Mr. Trump himself has spent his last days posting a series of tirades in all caps on his Truth Social site.
Under this barrage of criticism, Mr. Bragg emailed his employees that he “will not tolerate attempts to intimidate” them or “threaten the rule of law in New York.”
Originally published as Experts say Donald Trump’s looming New York indictment may be too ‘weak’ a case