Site icon USA News Independent

Trump is just 3 weeks from becoming the first ex-president to go on trial

Trump On Why He Persisted With 2020 Election Challenges
CNNIn 60 surreal New York minutes, Donald Trump staved off a personal and financial disaster but moved perilously closer to historic ignominy.

It didn’t start out too bad for the ex-president on Monday.

He won a legal triumph when an appeals court more than halved the value of a half-billion-dollar bond pledge needed to stop prosecutors from seizing some of his properties – or what he revealingly dubbed as his “babies” on social media.

It could get a lot better on Tuesday when Trump’s net worth could rocket by $3 billion when a merged entity that folded in his media company goes public.

Yet the moment that history is likely to remember most clearly unfolded in a Manhattan courtroom where Trump sat seething as a judge thwarted his latest delaying tactics and set a date for his hush money trial.

Barring some unforeseen event, Trump will on April 15 become the first ex-commander in chief to go on trial, injecting a stunning intangible into November’s election and shattering yet another presidential precedent. The coming trial will provide an acid test of his strategy of seeking to discredit what he insists is a corrupt legal system and to leverage his political movement against his opponents.

But despite all Trump’s efforts to slow down simultaneously running legal clocks, there’s now a real possibility one of the candidates on the presidential ballot could be a convicted felon. Of course, it’s also possible that Trump could be acquitted in this criminal case. He’s facing 34 charges of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments made before the 2016 election to cover up an alleged affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. (Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied the affair.)

Trump fumes but cannot control his fate

Trump’s conflicting emotions – relief that he isn’t losing, for now at least, the empire that made his name and fury at the humiliating trial that will now unfold in just three weeks – animated his appearances Monday during and after a pre-trial hearing in the hush money case.

As is his way, he praised judges who delivered him favorable outcomes and lambasted those who he believes did him wrong. “We appreciate and respect the appellate decision very much, and we will, I think, do very well,” Trump said of the ruling related to the civil fraud case.

“It will be my honor to post,” he said. It is a mark of the depth of Trump’s legal hole that a reduced requirement to post a bond worth $175 million counts as a big win. But he’d struggled for a month to find an insurance firm to secure the massive original bond payment and was in real trouble on Monday morning, so the court decision represented a lifeline.

Still, if Trump’s eventual appeal against the civil fraud judgment fails, he’ll owe New York state more than $450 million to make good on ill-gotten gains accrued through his overvaluations of assets to get better loan and insurance deals. With that in mind, Trump turned on Judge Arthur Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the prosecution, as he sought to embroider his narrative that he’s a victim of persecution orchestrated by Democrats.

“We have a judge who I believe is a crooked judge and a crooked attorney general, absolutely crooked. We did nothing wrong at all,” the former president said.

Already clashing with another judge

Turning to Judge Juan Merchan, who took the gloss off of the ex-president’s day by scheduling the trial date, Trump issued another bitter complaint. “I don’t know that you are going to have the trial. I don’t know how you can have a trial like this in the middle of an election, a presidential election.”

Legal experts, however, said that the former president, who has made an art form of delaying trials with multiple motions and legal gambits, may have finally run out of options in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“It doesn’t look like it is going to be postponed, I think we are all going to be here together on Tax Day, April 15, when they open for jury selection,” Ryan Goodman, a former special counsel at the Department of Defense, told CNN’s Erica Hill.

Trump has been more successful in putting off other criminal threats. He has, for example, made a sweeping claim of presidential immunity to the Supreme Court that has frozen special counsel Jack Smith’s federal election interference trial with a ruling not expected from the high court until the end of June. The former president and co-defendants also launched an unsuccessful bid to disqualify Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from his Georgia election interference prosecution that nevertheless ate up valuable time (and which he can still appeal). Willis told CNN this weekend she wants to try the case in the summer, but the timetable seems ambitious. And the federal trial initiated by Trump’s hoarding of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is bogged down in interminable litigation with a judge whom he appointed, Aileen Cannon, apparently in no hurry to get a trial on the docket.

So there’s a good chance that the Manhattan hush money case, seen as the least damaging to Trump because it may not result in jail time even if he is convicted and may come across to voters as a campaign finance matter dating back to a distant election, could be the only criminal case to reach a verdict before November.

Strategic choices for Trump and Biden

The ex-president expertly used his four criminal indictments, a mug shot in an Atlanta jail and his darkening legal prospects to relaunch an initially lackluster primary campaign. He was able to squeeze the oxygen from his GOP rivals and to stage a dominant march toward the party nomination. The question now is whether he will succeed in pulling off a similar trick with a broader electorate that may recoil from his explosive rhetoric and attacks on the legal system.

It’s a risk. Republicans continue to vote in sizable numbers for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, even though she’s suspended her campaign, and some polls suggest there is a bloc of GOP voters who will never vote for the ex-president or who might be scared off by a criminal conviction. Given that Trump’s rematch with President Joe Biden is expected to be a squeaker – perhaps with only a few hundred thousand votes in a handful of swing states proving decisive – it wouldn’t take many defections to really hurt Trump.

This is the same reality facing Biden. Democrats fret that progressives and Arab American voters in the key battleground of Michigan, for instance, could desert Biden over his support for Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza. Trump, meanwhile, has long had problems with crucial suburban and independent and moderate voters in swing states who helped cost him the 2020 election.

Trump’s looming criminal trial presents a challenge and an opportunity for the Biden campaign. The White House has generally sought to distance itself from the ex-president’s legal dramas – partly to avoid offering any credence to his warnings that he’s a target of political victimization. But after Trump’s wild post-court news conference at his building at 40 Wall Street on Monday, the president’s campaign issued a searing condemnation of his general election foe.

“Donald Trump is weak and desperate — both as a man and a candidate for President,” said spokesman James Singer, reinforcing strikingly outspoken language the campaign has been using to describe the ex-president recently. “His campaign can’t raise money, he is uninterested in campaigning outside his country club, and every time he opens his mouth, he pushes moderate and suburban voters away with his dangerous agenda.”

“America deserves better than a feeble, confused and tired Donald Trump.”

Trump grim glimpse at his near future

The former president – who is facing gargantuan legal fees, some of which have been paid by his political committees – also claimed that the civil fraud trial verdict was intended to drain his resources and damage his presidential campaign. “I would also like to be able to use some of my cash to get elected,” he said Monday. His claim might be more credible if he had pumped his money into his own campaign since his first full-scale presidential bid in 2016.

Trump’s smoldering appearances before the cameras on Monday left no doubt that he intends to turn the hush money trial into a circus – even though there will be no cameras in the courtroom. He pulled off a similar move before Engoron in the civil fraud trial, causing the judge at one point to warn him not to give political speeches and to admonish his attorneys to control their client.

But for all Trump’s complaints, his claim about the unfairness of the legal system is undercut by the scrupulous steps many of the judges involved in Trump’s criminal cases have taken to ensure fairness. The New York appeals court decision to cut the size of his required bond showcased the system’s capacity to police itself. Trump has made extensive use of appeals and challenges in all his criminal and civil cases that are guaranteed under the Constitution he decries. While he blasts what he sees as rogue prosecutors, his indictments emerged from grand juries and legal processes. And his fate in the hush money case and any others that go to trial will be decided by juries of his peers.

Trump’s latest day in court Monday also hinted at another emerging dynamic of this stage of his political career. The ex-president has always relished being the most powerful man in the room, the loudest voice on television and the supreme force of nature on social media. Even the generations-old decorum of the presidency and the constitutional checks on power couldn’t control him.

But the rituals of the legal system, the rules of evidence and the omnipotence of a judge on the bench mean that the ex-president loses the power to determine his fate and bully his way to supremacy every time he steps into a courtroom. His sullen body language at the defense table shows how hard this is for him to take.

Merchan on Monday offered Trump an unpleasant glimpse of what next month may bring when he brushed aside yet another vow by the ex-president’s attorneys to file a motion designed to put off proceedings.

“All right. See you all on the 15th,” Merchan said. “Take care.”

Exit mobile version