Donald Trump’s defense attorneys on Tuesday accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of not containing the compelling details needed to file charges in a security-related case. The first former president to file criminal charges.
But several lawyers and former prosecutors say Bragg was smart to leave out critical details of his case to gain a competitive advantage over Trump’s aggressive team of lawyers and political influencers.
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Covering up crimes related to the 2016 election
The indictment handed down by a Manhattan grand jury charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of a plan to keep from going public rumors that he had sex with two women in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
That includes paying $280,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal as part of a campaign to keep them from telling their stories and damaging Trump’s chances.
Another $30,000 was paid to a former Trump Tower doorman who tried to sell information about a child the defendant allegedly fathered out of wedlock, according to a release of information related to the lawsuit.
Such cases of fraudulent business records are often prosecuted as misdemeanors in New York State. But in a press conference after Trump’s indictment, Bragg said the charges were a crime because the records Fraud to hide Another crime.
Why did Donald Trump make these false statements over and over again? Bragg asked. “The information shows that he did this to cover up crimes related to the 2016 election.”
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Trump’s lawyers were not impressed.
Trump’s newly hired criminal defense attorney, Todd Blanche, dismissed the allegations, telling reporters, “There are really no surprises.”
“I know there’s been a lot of talk over the last several weeks and the last several days about what’s going on in this case and what we don’t know (that) there has to be something else than what we have.” They’ve been talking for the last four or five years,” Blanche said. “It wasn’t. There is nothing. The lawsuit itself is boilerplate.”
“It’s really disappointing,” Blanche added. “It’s sad, and we’re going to fight it.”
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He does not mention his hand
The statement of charges and facts is lengthy, but lacks the supporting detail contained in what is known as the “speech charge,” in which the alleged criminal acts are detailed.
But Bragg may have been withholding details from the indictment to avoid testifying, said John Dean, a former White House counsel and attorney who testified during the Watergate scandal.
“It’s got to alert people, and it’s done that,” Dean said, adding that Bragg and his team have filed dozens of these “bread and butter” record spoofs and become very adept at them. I think they opened themselves up to attack at the pre-trial stage by saying less, which is a smart move.
“Politically, Trump will probably have more of an opportunity to say more and ask all of their grievances,” Dean said. But, legally, I think they probably made a pretty strong case.
According to defense attorney and former federal prosecutor Alex Little, a statement of facts provides some detail about the facts of a criminal case.
For example, the indictment makes clear that former Trump attorney and self-proclaimed Michael Cohen will be a key witness in this case, Little said. “His receipts have been cited in many cases, and it is clear from the indictment and affidavits that he cooperated closely with the prosecutor’s office in filing this case.”
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“If Bragg can convince the judges, it’s going to be a tough case for the former president,” Little told USA TODAY.
Comment: As the GOP sticks with Trump and his criminal charges, Democrats continue to win elections.
A legal ‘disconnect’ in the Bragg case?
Such a bare-bones filing makes it difficult to determine how strong a case Bragg plans to file, including what evidence investigators might use to turn the charge into a felony, some legal experts said.
Former federal prosecutor Paul Rosezweig described the Bragg file as “a very ‘plain vanilla’ case.”
“It doesn’t even say what the other crime is that turns misdemeanors into felonies,” he said.
Focusing only on the $130,000 paid to Daniels, “there’s a connection between those narrow allegations and the broadest statement of facts that speaks to a longer plan to capture and kill bad stories about Trump,” Rosenzweig said. “Bragg didn’t fully explain the choice.”
Prominent defense attorney William Jeffress, Jr. agreed that the indictment reveals very little about Bragg’s prosecutorial strategy and legal theories.
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“If we assume that the 34 records in the business records are falsified because the payments were described as legitimate payments, the only real issue seems to be whether they were made with Trump’s knowledge or to cover up another crime — a campaign finance violation,” Jeffress said. Former Chair of the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Standards Committee.
“There’s enough evidence to support a jury’s verdict that the spending influenced the election,” Jeffress said, but he could say he wanted to hide it from his wife — and the jury will decide.
Al Capone’s strategy?
Jeanne Rossi, a 30-year civil and criminal attorney at the Justice Department, said the case is stronger than the allegations made, especially when you read between the lines of the affidavit.
“The statement of facts provides sufficient evidence and detailed evidence about the forms and aspects of this scheme to cheat and hide payments because an election was coming,” Rossi said. “When you have clearly forged documents, and it appears you have here, and you have witnesses corroborating each other, that combination is very powerful for a jury.
Rossi, who has litigated many tax law cases, also said a crucial aspect of the Bragg case was easily overlooked because it was mentioned so briefly in the disclosure statement: “Participants also took steps to reveal their true identity for tax purposes with respect to payments made to extend the scheme.”
This suggests that Trump and Cohen obtained tax breaks through a fraudulent scheme, Rossi said.
“This is a bold charge. And if it’s proven, it has a lot of jury appeal,” Rossi said. “Remember this: Al Capone got away with many crimes, but he couldn’t get away with tax crimes. He served for eight years.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump’s lawyers denounce DA Alvin Bragg’s case. Legal experts weigh it.