Tuesday, September 19, 2023
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Donald Trump en route to surrender on New York criminal charges

The twice-impeached former president will make history again when he returns to his hometown as the first ever U.S. president to face indictment.

MANHATTAN (CN) — In a historic moment and unprecedented first for any U.S. president, Donald Trump is expected to voluntarily surrender to New York City prosecutors for his arraignment on criminal charges Tuesday morning at the Manhattan criminal courthouse.

Trump’s gold-plated Boeing 757 flew him to New York from Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday afternoon. Following his arrival at court Tuesday morning, the 76-year-old Queens native will be photographed, electronically fingerprinted and then presented before a state judge on his still-sealed criminal indictment.

Prosecutors confirmed that a grand jury returned the indictment on Thursday evening remain but have not yet disclosed the charges being brought. For the last several months the grand jury has been investigating payments made to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence her claims of an extramarital sexual tryst with Trump.

The former president has denied any wrongdoing, denounced his indictment as “political persecution” aimed at deterring him from running for president a third time in 2024. Trump predicts that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s “election interference” will backfire on Democrats to his benefit.

His historic arraignment hearing will be held in the same 15th floor courtroom of the Art Deco court building where both disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein and Trump’s own namesake corporation Trump Organization were each convicted in their respective criminal cases in the past three years.

Trump did not make the payment to Daniels himself, but his company made a log of $420,000 in aggregate "legal expenses" when it reimbursed his former personal attorney and longtime “fixer” Michael Cohen, who personally cut Daniels a check for $130,000 from Essential Consultants, a shell entity formed just weeks before the 2016 presidential election.

Falsification of business records is typically considered a misdemeanor offense. To prove a felony, New York prosecutors must show there was an intent to commit or cover up another crime — potentially violations of federal election laws, in this case.

Veteran election law attorney Jerry Goldfeder, director of the Fordham Law School Voting Rights and Democracy Project, told Courthouse News that the hush money paid to Daniels could be characterized by prosecutors as an “in-kind contribution” to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, which would have been required to be disclosed on campaign finance papers.

“If it’s in the furtherance of the campaign in support of the candidate, [it] becomes an ‘in-kind contribution’ … and all in-kind contributions to a campaign need to be publicly disclosed on the filings as in-kind contributions; there’s a certain schedule for that,” he said in a phone interview Monday.

“The allegation is they intentionally did not disclose what would be deemed an in-kind contribution because they didn’t want the world to know they were paying hush money in furtherance of the campaign.”

While Trump’s defense will deny that the money was paid in furtherance of the campaign, “the prosecution will put in evidence — testimonial evidence, documentary evidence — trying to show that it was in fact in furtherance of the campaign,” Goldfeder said.

Goldfeder, who was tapped in 2007 by then-New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to be his special counsel on public integrity issues, advised against discounting the significance of any potential election law crimes.

“Campaign finance violations may seem like small potatoes next to trying to overthrow the presidential election, but if it occurred, it’s a violation of set of laws that go to the heart of our electoral process, and public integrity bureaus," he said. "Whether it’s in the AG’s office or the District Attorney’s office, or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, prosecutors take that very, very seriously — as well they should.”

Five years before Trump’s co-lead defense attorney Joe Tacopina began representing the former president in relation to the hush money, he speculated on CNN as a legal commentator that, if the facts in the hush-money scheme were as Daniels described, he believed the alleged payoff could be classified as an undisclosed in-kind campaign contribution at the time of the election.

One day before Trump’s arraignment, it was announced that white-collar criminal defense attorney Todd Blanche had joined Tacopina and Susan Necheles on the defense team. Blanche previously won the dismissal of the Manhattan district attorney’s fraud case against former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort in December 2019.

The New York City Police Department is preparing for potential protests from both supporters and detractors of the 45th president, with amplified police presence, additional security barricades, and street closures ahead of Trump’s arrival on Tuesday morning.

Trump was asked by the District Attorney’s Office to surrender Friday, but his lawyers said the Secret Service needed additional time as they arranged preparations.

Trump, who kicked off his 2024 White House bid this past January with campaign stops in New Hampshire and South Carolina, is expected be released immediately after the arraignment. He is set to leave Manhattan and hold a press conference at his Mar-a-Lago club Palm Beach, Florida, on Tuesday evening.

Weeks before the Manhattan grand jury finally voted to indict, Trump had urged his diehard base to "PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST" by way of his networking website Truth Social. Although he has not reprised such direct calls, his MAGA allies, including far-right Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene announced a “Rally For Trump” across the street from the New York criminal courthouse on Tuesday.

At a press conference on Monday afternoon, New York City Mayor Eric Adams reiterated assessments by law enforcement that the city does not face any current credible threats.

“While there may be some rabble rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: control yourselves,” the Democrat and NYPD veteran admonished. “New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger.”

John Rogan, a Fordham law professor, cautioned generally that any indictment of a former president, even when merited, “is nothing to celebrate.”

“There are potential costs for the country's political culture. It could lead to further politicization of the criminal justice system; politicians and their supporters may increasingly expect their opponents to be prosecuted,” he told Courthouse News on Monday. “Still, when a crime has been committed, prosecutors need to treat everyone equally before the law. If they don't, the public's confidence in the rule of law and the legal system will suffer. And it could encourage bad behavior by future candidates and presidents.”

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Categories / Criminal, National, Politics

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