Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Official Day One of Donald Trump's hush-money trial is filled with sordid details and sketchy characters, but irony seizes the day at an event teeming with history

Alvin Bragg, New York DA (Reuters)

On the first full, official day of the Donald Trump hush-money case in New York, prosecutors repeatedly accused Trump of engaging in a scheme to hide an extramarital affair with a porn star in order to enhance his chances of winning the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In an analysis of the true Day One in the Trump trial, a team of four reporters from  The New York Times (NYT) concluded the clear winner in a proceeding draped in history, was instead, irony.

First, the scheme for which Trump is being criminally prosecuted worked. Despite all the smarmy machinations behind the scenes by a team of sketchy characters. Trump "won" the election, and while we might never know if he was lawfully elected, he did serve in the White House for four chaotic years, and now is seeking to unseat the man who denied him a second term -- Democratic incumbent Joe Biden -- the man Trump blames for every wrong committed against him, except (maybe) the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Second, a guilty verdict would not keep Trump from serving as president. But it might, The Times' team points out, make it harder for Trump to win the election. Reporters David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Jonah Bromwich, and Ben Protess write in The Morning newsletter:

A criminal trial is often a contest between competing stories. In the trial of Donald Trump that’s just begun, prosecutors used their opening statement yesterday to tell a story about a man they say lied — and broke the law — to get elected president.

The prosecutors said that Trump had paid $130,000 in hush money to a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair and that he had then filed false business records to pretend that the money was instead for legal fees. His actions were part of a pattern in which he repeatedly lied to shape his image, the prosecutors said, and it worked: He narrowly won the 2016 election.

The story that Trump’s lawyers offered in their own opening statements had two main features. First, they urged the jurors not to trust the witnesses who will testify against Trump, including Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer who previously pleaded guilty to making false statements. Second, Trump’s lawyers argued that his attempts to affect the election were ordinary politics.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election,” Todd Blanche, one of Trump’s lawyers, said in his opening statement. “It’s called democracy.”

(Note: Here is a link to a piece about the trial's opposing viewpoints of Trump.

Will the case resonate beyond the courtroom? Given it's the first time a former U.S. president has been tried for alleged criminal conduct the answer clearly is yes. From The Times' analysis:

The immediate audience for these dueling arguments is the jury of 12 New Yorkers who will decide the verdict. But there is also a larger audience that will judge the case, of course: American voters.

Trump’s lawyers hope to persuade both the 12 jurors and this year’s voters that his behavior amounted to normal campaign tactics. The prosecutors, overseen by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, want to portray Trump as a man who lied and cheated in ways that had little precedent.

“The case is not — the core of it’s not — money for sex,” Bragg said recently. “We would say it’s about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up.”

A guilty verdict would not prevent Trump from serving as president again. Nothing in the Constitution bars people from office because of a conviction. But if Bragg’s team can persuade jurors of the argument, it may have a big impact on the 2024 campaign.

In recent polls, a meaningful share of Trump’s current supporters say they would be less likely to vote for him if he were convicted of a crime. And because of how slowly the other three criminal cases against Trump are moving, this case may be the only one to complete a trial before the November election.

Will poll results dovetail with results of the criminal trial? We should know in six to eight weeks, the expected length of the trial. We invite you to stay tuned as, one way or another, history unfolds before us.

Here are several Day One highlights, as seen through the eyes of The Times' reporting team: 

(1) David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, was the trial’s first witness. Pecker used the tabloid to suppress damaging rumors about Trump, and prosecutors say that Pecker helped negotiate the hush-money payment at the center of this case. He’s expected to continue testifying when court resumes on Thursday.

 (2) Trump made no outbursts inside the courtroom but shook his head when prosecutors said things he disagreed with. He also appeared to briefly fall asleep, as he did during jury selection last week.

 (3) Trump’s relationship with Stormy Daniels, a former porn star, is crucial to the trial. Trump’s lawyer said yesterday that the two never had sex; Daniels may be called to testify. (Does anyone really believe Trump and Daniels did not have sex? I'm sure they spent their time discussing golfers on the leader board at the tournament -- a celebrity event at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, Nevada -- where their liaison allegedly took place. (Stormy, I'm sure, is a golf aficionado. I hear she's a big fan of Rocco Mediate.)

(4) Trump may testify, though a ruling yesterday made it less likely: The judge said prosecutors could ask him about other cases he had lost, including a recent defamation case from the writer E. Jean Carroll, who has accused him of rape.

No comments: