April 28, 2023
Former US president Donald Trump appears in court on 34 felony charges
Former President Donald J. Trump at the White House, December, 2019.
Donald Trump appeared in court for a ‘first’ in US history with the former American president being charged on 34 felony charges linked to hush-money payments.
Trump appeared in Criminal Court in Lower Manhattan on April 4 and pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him, which accuse him of having “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election”.
The felony charges were brought by the Office of New York District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, who said the case was like many white collar cases we see – “Allegations that someone lied, again and again, to protect their interests and evade the laws to which we are all held accountable.”
On March 30, a state grand jury in Manhattan returned 34 felony charges of forging company documents in order to conceal $130,000 in ‘hush-money’ payments sent to Stormi Daniels about claims of an extramarital sexual encounter.
The New York County District Attorney’s office contends the ‘catch-and-kill’ scheme was a conspiracy to help Trump in his win in the presidential election over Hillary Clinton. Trump confessed not guilty to all allegations.
After his visit to the New York Courthouse, Trump flew back to Florida, where in front of a wide audience of his supporters, he delivered a speech describing the case against him as “an insult to our country”.
He continued saying how the United States was “going to hell” while insulting his opposition and claiming that the sole reason behind the case is political.
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The New York arrest is not Trump’s only legal problem. In addition to state and federal inspections into his election tampering, a federal inquiry into his retention of confidential data, and a civil lawsuit over the company’s operations, he is also facing a civil defamation claim based on a rape accusation.
At least 26 women have accused Trump of sexual misbehaviour or assault. One of the women, writer E Jean Carroll, claims Trump assaulted her in a New York department store changing room in the mid-1990s. Trump has repeatedly denied the claims, saying that Carroll only brought forth the allegations to elevate the sale of her 2019 memoir ‘What Do We Need Men For?’. The civil rape trial opened on Tuesday, April 25 in Manhattan with a jury sworn in. The case is ongoing.
The indictment against Trump is based on allegations that he violated state and federal campaign funding regulations. Observers disagree on whether Bragg has developed a viable case. Some believe Trump will get off the hook. Others believe the first prosecutor to indict a president has a fair probability of success.
Ron DeSantis, Trump’s opponent for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, previously said he would not get involved in the indictment. Contrary to his own belief he tweeted on the situation: “The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent.”
DeSantis continued, “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda.”
There have been mixed views over Trump’s indictment, with some showing their support for the former president from protests to donating to his 2024 campaign, and others voicing their concern over the alleged charges. Trump is said to have benefitted both politically and financially after receiving a $34m campaign donation boost following the announcement of indictments against him.
Some questioned why Bragg pursued a case he appeared to have abandoned months before. Others inquired about the facts, such as how Bragg was capable of managing to escalate Trump’s “falsification of business records” charges to felonies, which requires proof that Trump sought to hide a second offence. While others focused on the six-year wait in pressing charges, anticipating that Trump will seek to dismiss the case for surpassing the statute of limitations, despite the opinion of some legal experts that the case is not time-barred.
Bragg’s papers and public statements left those issues mostly unresolved. When asked why he changed his mind and charged Trump after allegedly expressing reservations about facets of the investigation, Bragg declined to elaborate, saying only that his lawyers had “more evidence made available to the office and the opportunity to meet with additional witnesses.”
Trump’s indictment was commented on not only by politicians but also by known figures such as HBO host Bill Maher. He claimed that the criminal case against Donald Trump could backfire, making a historical analogy to Bill Clinton’s time in office. The comedian said: ‘This whole, going after the president for f***ing around thing, I’ve seen this movie before, it was called Kill Bill, and America did not like it the first time.“Sex scandals don’t work on presidents.”
If Trump is convicted as charged, he could face up to four years in jail, according to the head of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. However, since Trump has been accused as a first-time felon, it is feasible that he would just face probation, penalties, and community service, according to Columbia University law school professor John C Coffee Jr.