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Andrew Kelly

Trump at court (center) with his lawyers

Trump’s indictment

About the indictment and reactions to the indictment

May 4, 2023

On Mar. 30, 2023, former President Donald Trump was indicted by a New York grand jury. Trump was indicted on 34 counts of falsifying business records in order to cover up hush money payments. These charges all pertain to checks that neared $130,000 in hush money payments made by lawyer Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels, in an attempt to prevent her from discussing an affair she had with Trump in 2006.

Trump is being represented by attorneys Todd Blanche, Susan Necheles, and Joe Tacopina. He traveled to New York City on Monday, Apr. 3, and appeared in court for his arraignment on Tuesday, Apr. 4. He did not have his mug shot taken nor was he arrested. Trump pleaded not guilty to the 34 counts he was charged with.

There have been concerns expressed about how fair a trial would be for Trump. Firstly, Trump’s advisors and allies have expressed concern about the trial being held in Manhattan because that borough votes predominantly Democratic. The New York State Unified Court System’s trial juror handbook “voir dire” process states that prosecution and defense attorneys must accept jurors as free of “bias or personal knowledge that could hinder his or her ability to judge a case impartially” and that those jurors must take an oath to act fairly and impartially. Defendants in New York have the “right to a speedy trial” within six months of being indicted. Prosecutors have indicated that they would like to go to court in January 2024.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), House Oversight Chair Jim Comer (R-Kentucky), and House Administration Committee Chair Bryan Steil (R-Wisconsin) have been conducting a probe about the indictment. They wrote a letter to Bragg, requesting that he sit with committee staff and hand over various documents concerning federal funding or communications with the Justice Department and other federal law enforcement. “You are reportedly about to engage in an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority: the indictment of a former President of the United States and current declared candidate for that office. This indictment comes after years of your office searching for a basis—any basis—on which to bring charges, ultimately settling on a novel legal theory untested anywhere in the country and one that federal authorities declined to pursue,” stated part of the letter. Bragg is suing Jordan to keep the House Judiciary Committee from interfering in his investigation into Trump. Bragg’s lawsuit states, “Congress has no power to supervise state criminal prosecutions. Nor does Congress have the power to serve subpoenas for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to punish those investigated. Yet that is precisely what Chairman Jordan is trying to do.”

President Joe Biden has not commented on Trump’s indictment. However, prior to Trump’s appearance at court, Biden indicated that he trusts the American legal system and the New York Police Department’s ability to handle any unrest. Some experts have also expressed approval of Biden’s silence due to investigations on Trump’s handling of classified documents and efforts to reverse the 2020 election results. NBC News legal analyst and former U.S. attorney in Virginia, Chuck Rosenberg, stated, “If Mr. Trump is indicted by a state grand jury, Mr. Biden would be wise not to comment on that criminal case, in part because there is an ongoing federal investigation being conducted by a special counsel within the Justice Department.” Concern has also been raised about political consequences for Biden if he speaks out. “If they [Biden and other Democrats] do jump all over it, it gives Donald Trump and the Republicans an opportunity to say this is a witch hunt,” stated Democratic strategist Lisa Smith.

Former vice president Mike Pence stated that, “The idea of indicting a former president of the United States is deeply troubling to me as it is to tens of millions of Americans.” Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis initially commented, “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.” DeSantis later conveyed that he would not assist in any extradition request involving Trump (who primarily resides in Florida).

As for Republican presidential candidates, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy stated about Trump’s indictment that he did not want to live in a country where, “the party in power is able to use police force to arrest its political opposition.” Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley tweeted, “This is more about revenge than it is justice.” Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson claimed that “While the grand jury found credible facts to support the charges, it is important that the presumption of innocence follows Mr. Trump.”

According to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS, 60% of Americans approve of the indictment of Trump. However, 76% of Americans believe politics played some role in the decision to indict Trump. This survey was conducted from March 31 through April 1. According to an ABC News/Ipsos poll, 53% of Americans believe that Trump did intentionally do something illegal. That poll was conducted from Apr. 6 to Apr. 7. Amanda Loveday, adviser to Unite the Country and former aide to Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. claimed, “The people who don’t think he’s lawless don’t think he’s lawless even if he gets indicted. Trump is one of those really special politicians who you believe what you want to believe about him, whether it’s fact or fiction.”

Trump likely won’t stand trial for his charges until 2024. It will have to be seen if any developments occur beforehand that impact Trump’s fate.

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