Former president Donald Trump talks to reporters after a day in court this week. (Photo by MARK PETERSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Trial Against Trump Will Throw the Election into Chaos

The former president has been dragged into court on a flimsy charge that rests on the testimony of a convicted liar.

When Donald Trump was indicted last year by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, I was skeptical. The indictment alleged that the 45th president had falsified payments to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, by classifying them as legal fees when in fact it was reimbursement for hush money to the porn star known as Stormy Daniels.

As the trial has unfolded over the past two months, Daniels has testified that Trump had sex with her at Lake Tahoe in 2006 and didn’t wear a condom or display much sexual endurance. Cohen testified that he dutifully made the payments to Daniels on Trump’s behalf because he was “knee-deep in the cult of Trump.” Former senior Trump aide Hope Hicks has testified to the lengths the 2016 campaign and Trump White House went to suppress stories of the former president’s past sexual scandals.

The resistance commentariat insists that Trump is going down. Republican Never Trump lawyer George Conway writes in The Atlantic that Bragg’s case is “kind of perfect.” MSNBC host and former Republican operative Nicole Wallace assures viewers that Trump’s lawyers “bombed” their cross-examination of Cohen. Former Justice Department official Andrew Weissman praises Bragg’s “crackerjack team of experienced attorneys” for building an airtight case. 

But missing from this wall-to-wall coverage is any mention of the underlying crime that Trump falsified business records to advance his campaign. And that is a fatal flaw in the case, because New York law stipulates that falsifying business records can only be charged as felonies (as Bragg has done) if it’s done to further another crime. Trump has not been charged with another crime, though Bragg has floated the theory that the business records were falsified to deprive 2016 voters of information about his tryst with Daniels.

There are other flaws as well. Robert Costello, one of the lawyers who worked closely with Cohen at the U.S. Attorney’s Office at the Southern District of New York, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that his old office declined to prosecute the hush money case against Trump because Cohen was “totally unworthy of belief.”

Cohen is Bragg’s star witness. And according to Costello, Cohen told the U.S. attorney’s office in 2018 that the “payment to Daniels was his own idea, designed to try and get him back into the inner circle of Trump people in Washington.” 

That is damning testimony from a far more credible source than Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress and served two and a half years in prison.

It’s still quite possible that the Manhattan jury will convict Trump on the 34 felony charges Bragg has brought. But there is no chance the conviction will withstand appeal, particularly given that it relies so heavily on Cohen’s testimony.

At best the anti-Trump “resistance” will win a Pyrrhic victory. They may get their headline: “Trump Convicted in Hush Money Trial.” But the charge will not stick.

In the meantime, Alvin Bragg has thrown the 2024 election into chaos by dragging the presumptive Republican presidential nominee into court to defend himself against an untested legal theory premised on the testimony of a convicted liar.

Trump already has proven that he will not recognize the results of elections that he doesn’t win. Bragg’s prosecution gives Trump and his supporters a ready-made excuse not to accept the results of the 2024 election should President Joe Biden prevail.

The hush money trial also gives permission and incentive to ambitious Republican prosecutors to repay Democrats in kind. Our legal system will soon be dominated by the whims of those in power as opposed to the rule of law.

Costello on Wednesday summed up the dangers of Bragg’s folly. “In the Trump case, they are seeking a conviction by any means necessary,” he said. “They do not care if it is overturned on appeal because that will likely not happen until after the election. In the meantime, they will have effectively interfered with the 2024 presidential election and perhaps influenced some voters because of an ill-gotten conviction.”

In other words, Alvin Bragg is destroying our democratic system in order to save it. 

Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLake and read his piece “Trump Probably Broke the Law. But That Law Shouldn’t Exist.”

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