Looming Trump Indictment and its Negative Effects

Steven Makino, Staff Writer

Every week seems to top the last when it comes to ground-breaking stories concerning certain politicians and policies leading to wide-spread debate. However, last week, this trend escalated to a new level when information was leaked surrounding the likelihood of an indictment against former President Donald Trump.

The former president – and the current frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination – is being investigated by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg over a $130,000 hush money payment made by Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels. The payment was made to keep Daniels quiet about claims that she and Trump had an affair in 2006, which he has consistently denied.

Trump made it known on his social media platform, Truth Social, that he would be arrested last Tuesday, sparking passionate responses from both sides of the aisle. Those who support the former president naturally rose to his defense and resonated with his claim that the investigation is a “witch hunt” out to get him since he became president, while his critics celebrated the news and its negative impact on his ongoing campaign to seek a second term in the Oval Office.

However, to put it bluntly, while this case is very dicey legally speaking, as well as thought by some to be politically motivated, it is one that is very bad for the country, regardless of one’s political affiliation.

To start with the case’s legality, the grounds are questionable at best.

Bragg will likely emphasize that the Trump campaign reimbursed Cohen for the payment and proceeded to cover it up as a legal expense, thus hiding the purpose of the payment. Cohen, when pleading guilty of federal campaign finance crimes, claimed that Trump allegedly put him up to paying off Stormy Daniels.  

The case is essentially relying on Cohen’s recent testimony that he gave in front of the grand jury as the basis to go after the former president. This leads to a major issue that Bragg has to deal with.

One issue is the fact that Cohen’s credibility is nowhere near strong enough to rely on, let alone for an unprecedented case of this magnitude. This is most obvious when he pled guilty to federal campaign finance crimes in 2018 and had served a few years in prison. 

His credibility is further subject to scrutiny as a letter from Cohen’s lawyer to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) stated, “In a private transaction in 2016, before the U.S. presidential election, Mr. Cohen used his own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels’s real name).” The letter goes on to say that the Trump campaign had nothing to do with the matter and did not reimburse Cohen.

While this alone may not be the “smoking gun” that some have claimed this letter to be, it does at minimum suggest that Cohen’s testimony should be taken with a grain of salt, undercutting one of the strongest pieces of evidence in Bragg’s case.

This case is also unprecedented in that it elevates falsifying business records to a felony, when it is typically considered a misdemeanor in the state of New York. As such, prosecutors must prove the former president’s intent to falsify his business records was to hide a second crime, which is a daunting task.

It is worth noting that the statute of limitations in New York for a misdemeanor is normally two years, while it is five years for felonies, with the exception of cases that involve murder or rape.

This leads to why this case is a politically inept move and would likely have the opposite effect that its proponents hope it will. For one, Bragg touts positions that are soft on crime, as in 2022 he downgraded about half of felony cases to misdemeanors. In addition, this is a case that the FEC dismissed in May of 2021, when it looked into whether Trump violated election law with this payment. 

This, coupled with failed investigations during Trump’s presidency, such as Russian collusion allegations, his two impeachment trials and inherent media bias seem to point to this investigation being more politically than legally motivated.

In the days following the looming indictment rumors, the former president saw a boost in numerous polls for the GOP nomination in 2024, showing that a growing number of people see this as yet another attempt to unfairly go after President Trump. This is something that can propel him into the White House again, since Trump is at his political peak when he is in opposition to others who clearly are not fond of him.

However, even putting the legal and political ramifications of an indictment in this case, this sets a dangerous precedent of weaponizing law enforcement. This is evident as prosecutors such as New York Attorney General Letitia James campaigned for the position on the promise that she would go after Trump, essentially admitting her intent to seek out a crime rather than following evidence.

This is an important distinction as the law is predicated on charging people after finding evidence in an impartial manner. 

For example, if someone had animosity towards another, they could likely dig up dirt on that person, no matter how small the wrongdoing or questionable action may be and use this to ruin one’s reputation. 

Whether a person likes Trump or not, eliminating this standard would fundamentally change the role of the legal system for the worse and should be of great concern to every American. If this means of legal prosecution can be applied to a former president of the United States, it can be applied to any citizen, as well.