Trump’s NY Criminal Trial to Mark Milestone in American Politics - Hindustan Times

Trump’s NY Criminal Trial to Mark Milestone in American Politics

Bloomberg |
Apr 14, 2024 09:26 PM IST

Donald Trump is poised to become the first former US president to face a criminal trial, a watershed moment for American democracy as the Republican nominee fights a divisive battle to retake the White House.

Donald Trump is poised to become the first former US president to face a criminal trial, a watershed moment for American democracy as the Republican nominee fights a divisive battle to retake the White House.

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The New York trial starting Monday over the alleged falsification of business records to conceal a sex scandal during Trump’s 2016 campaign is one of four criminal cases against the former president, but it’s the only one set to go to trial before his November rematch against President Joe Biden. 

The trial marks an extraordinary moment even for Trump, raising the prospect that he could become a convicted felon before a single vote is cast. It also risks further inflaming tensions between Americans who see Trump as a serial offender and those who agree with his assertion that he’s a victim of a Democratic “witch hunt.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case is focused on “hush-money” payments to a porn star Stormy Daniels to keep voters in the dark about the alleged affairs before the 2016 election. It is widely seen as the least consequential of Trump’s the four criminal prosecutions, but a guilty verdict would nevertheless put his freedom at risk and raise doubts about his ability to lead the nation.

The 77-year-old former president has pleaded not guilty to the charges and faces as many as four years behind bars. The charges don’t bar him from running for or becoming president. Yet the prospect that he could be convicted and sentenced to jail could trigger a political crisis. 

A conviction would also force the US legal system to wrestle with unprecedented questions, including whether Trump could be sentenced to jail while he’s campaigning, and, if he wins, when exactly he’d serve his time. 

A spokesperson for Trump’s campaign said the trial represents a “failing election interference strategy” by Democrats “to try and keep President Trump away from campaigning by confining him to a courtroom.”

Campaigning in Court

Trump is required by law to attend the trial each day in a Lower Manhattan state court. The scenario will create split-screen moments, in which Trump will be in the spotlight as both a presidential candidate and a criminal defendant. 

The proceeding is expected to last for six to eight weeks. Jury selection alone, which kicks off Monday, could take days, if not weeks. In trial by day, Trump will be free to campaign when the court is dark: nights, Wednesdays and weekends. 

But the courthouse also offers Trump a powerful platform from which to communicate with his base. The hallway outside the courtroom will be home to television cameras and reporters for weeks, giving the media savvy, former reality television star free air time to publicly defend himself while spreading his campaign message.

Judge Juan Merchan’s has issued a gag order barring the former president from commenting on jurors, prosecutors and potential witnesses, citing threats to their safety. The order puts Trump at risk of fines and even jailing if he violates it. Trump has a history of flouting court orders. 

Read More: Trump Fined $10,000 by Judge Over Second Gag Order Violation

The hush-money trial will revisit Trump’s 2016 bid for the White House. The indictment includes 34 counts of falsifying business records, which is normally a misdemeanor. But Bragg argues the hush-money payments amounted to campaign-finance violations, elevating the charges to felonies. 

White House Run

Bragg’s decision to charge Trump last April supercharged his White House campaign. Trump consolidated voter support and surpassed his Republican primary rivals in the polls, clinching the GOP presidential nomination in March. 

Yet a conviction could deliver a blow to Trump in the general election. More than half of swing-state voters said they wouldn’t vote for the former president if he is found guilty of a crime, according to a Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll taken in January. 

But Trump, who repeatedly broke conventions as president, still has a strong base of support. Four in ten voters in swing states said they would still be willing to vote for Trump if a jury finds him guilty, while an additional 7% were undecided. 

Three More Cases 

Trump faces three other criminal cases: Special Counsel Jack Smith’s charged Trump with multiple crimes stemming from his effort to overturn the 2020 election and the resulting attack on the US Capitol. He has brought another case in Florida accusing Trump of taking sensitive government documents from the White House after leaving office and refusing to give them back. Trump also faces a state case in Georgia for allegedly leading a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. 

All the cases have been delayed by pre-trial proceedings — including the Supreme Court’s decision to take up the question of whether or not former presidents are immune from prosecution — narrowing the window for these cases to go to trial before the fall.

Read More: Keeping Up With Trump and His Trials: A Timeline of Court Dates

The Bragg trial will refocus the public’s attention on Trump’s conduct with women, after he was found liable for sexually assaulting the writer E. Jean Carroll, and reveal the extent to which he allegedly sought to bury salacious news about himself before the 2016 vote.

Trump’s alleged affair with Daniels is expected to resurface in tawdry detail. Testimony from witnesses, and likely from Daniels herself, will offer an insider’s view of what happened. That includes insight into how she received payments from Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, the government’s star witness, and how Trump reimbursed him.

If Trump is found guilty, he could potentially be given a prison term before the summer. Sentencing hearings normally happen within weeks of a verdict. 

Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor, said the judge will have great leeway to decide when to sentence Trump and for how long. Trump didn’t leave a trail of victims in the hush-money case and doesn’t have a history of convictions, which might sway the judge to issue a shorter sentence or probation. 

“The likelihood that he’ll ever be in a jail cell is remote,” Zeldin said. “I continue to think that if Trump is convicted in New York, he will remain free pending appeal.”

With assistance from Jordan Fabian and Shelby Knowles.

This article was generated from an automated news agency feed without modifications to text.

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