Marcela Bonet is an economics freshman and Mustang News opinion columnist. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.
If you’re anything like me, looking at headlines fills you with an overwhelming sense that you have no idea what is going on in the world. Sometimes, it feels almost as if everyone else in the world is secretly getting together for a briefing on current events– and I’m the only one left out. Sure, I’d like to be in the know– but it’s hard knowing where to start. Well, lucky for you, I’ve got your back. Here’s a simple rundown of one of the most recent historically unprecedented events to occur in politics: the indictment of former president Donald Trump.
Before Donald Trump was the President, he was well-known for basically being a very rich businessman (remember in season one of Sex and the City, when Mr. Big was compared to Donald Trump? It’s like that. Very rich real-estate business guy.).
In fact, Trump’s success within the business world was one of the things that drew voters to him – the argument was that we didn’t need another career politician to fix this country, we needed someone with real-world skills and success.
When you own a business, however, there’s a lot of legal trouble that you can get into if you lie about how you are using your company funds. This is called falsifying business records, and in New York, it isn’t a felony. However, lying on your business records is a felony if you’re lying to cover up a secondary crime. This is called Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg led the effort to indict (which, by the way, means to formally accuse) Trump of doing this. It’s unclear what secondary crime Bragg is accusing Trump of falsifying business records to cover up, but it’s important to note that Trump doesn’t actually have to be convicted of that secondary crime. Bragg and his team only have to prove that Trump intended to cover up a crime with his falsified business records, not that he actually committed one.
So what exactly did Trump do to get indicted for 34 counts of this?
It all goes back to 2006, when Donald Trump supposedly met ex-porn star Stormy Daniels at a golf tournament. Daniels claims that she and Trump had sex once in his hotel room. This allegedly happened right after Trump’s wife, Melania Trump, had just given birth.
Trump denies this affair. Daniels also alleges that Trump’s lawyer, a man named Michael Cohen, paid her $130,000 to keep quiet about the affair. However, even if this were true, it is not against the law to offer someone “hush money” in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). In 2018, Daniels was sued for violating this NDA because of a 60-Minutes interview, in which she discussed the affair and threats she received from Trump’s supporters in its aftermath.
Bragg’s case depends on the idea that Trump reimbursed the payment that Cohen made to Daniels using some of the funds that were falsified in his business records (these reimbursements were supposedly listed in the records as “legal fees”– prosecutors say no legal services were performed).
Cohen testified to both making the payment and being reimbursed for it under oath, and Trump claims that all hush money payments were completely legal. Each of the 34 counts refers to a specific record that may have been falsified to fund “hush money” payments to various individuals who, like Daniels, had a story that would have harmed Trump’s campaign. Trump has pleaded Not Guilty to all 34 counts.
Whether Trump is likely to be convicted of a crime is up in the air, but his indictment has already made history. Because Trump has pleaded Not Guilty, it is unlikely that a trial will happen anytime soon, and his lawyers will likely file motions to get the case dismissed.
In my opinion, it is unlikely that Trump will face jail time, or even a guilty verdict. Legally, it’s relatively difficult to prove intent (which this case depends on). For a notoriously unpredictable character like Trump, intent becomes even more difficult to prove. It’s up to Bragg’s team to prove that Trump both falsified business records and intended to commit a secondary crime. And regardless of his status, Trump’s team will have to provide reasonable doubt of his guilt.
As Bragg put it in a recent press conference regarding the charges, “Everyone stands equal under the law. No amount of money, and no amount of power, changes that.”