Arrested for corruption or corruptly arrested?
As of this writing, the former president of the United States and frontrunning GOP candidate for president in 2024, Donald J. Trump of Florida, has been indicted by a grand jury in Manhattan on charges that are still under seal as of this writing. According to some news reports, Trump will be in New York City on Tuesday to be formally charged, arrested and booked.
There’s obviously a lot of interest in the booking photo. You can expect to see it on shirts, hats, coffee cups, tote bags, posters, flags and murals on the sides of trucks. Trump supporters are ready to run with Notorious DJT.
Two days before the indictment was announced, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was on MSNBC telling host Joy Reid that “we spend too much time talking about him….We cannot keep giving him all the press he wants.”
Right, good luck with that.
Pelosi seemed to think Trump was fabricating the story when he announced on his Truth Social account that he was going to be arrested. “This whole thing about his indictment coming out when he didn’t even really know if he was going to be indicted, I don’t think,” she said. “And for a week and a half, all we hear is about him. And that’s exactly what he wanted.”
The former House speaker obviously noticed Trump’s rising popularity. Last week, a Fox News poll found that the man Pelosi sniped at as “a former, ex, impeached, twice, president, and defeated, president of the United States” had expanded his lead in the GOP primary race and was at 54%, leading Florida Governor Ron DeSantis by 30 points. In February, Trump led DeSantis 43% to 28%.
Fox News’ pollster stated that “the rumor that Trump is going to be indicted by the district attorney in Manhattan has helped him quite a bit among Republican primary voters.”
But Pelosi’s comments are cause to wonder if the rumor was also helping Trump among independents and perhaps even some Democrats.
By Thursday evening, the Trump campaign had sent out a fundraising email that featured the New York Times headline, “Grand Jury votes to indict Donald Trump in New York.” It referred to the indictment as “a disgusting witch hunt” and slammed the DA, Alvin Bragg, as a “Soros-funded District Attorney” who had “relied on the testimony of a convicted felon and a disbarred liar.”
That’s a reference to Michael Cohen, a now disbarred attorney who reportedly worked as a “fixer” for Trump, and who went to prison for lying to Congress six times. Cohen also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, which may be relevant. Reporters and legal experts have speculated that Bragg has taken a New York state misdemeanor related to maintaining accurate business records and enhanced it to a felony by claiming that it was tied to a federal crime, specifically a campaign finance law violation.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume the speculation has hit the nail on the head, and let’s also assume that Trump did exactly what he’s accused of doing. What is he accused of doing?
He’s accused of using his own money to pay his own lawyer to prevent public embarrassments threatened by an adult film actress and a former Playboy model. He’s accused of writing it down in the business records as “legal” expenses. And he’s accused of doing this so close to the 2016 election that it must be considered a donation to his own campaign, which should have been reported as such and wasn’t.
Even assuming this is all true, it’s questionable whether campaign finance law required these payments to be reported as donations to the Trump presidential campaign. There are many reasons why a married businessman, whose business is built on licensing his own name, would seek to prevent splashy headlines about alleged affairs with the women in question. Don’t forget that at the time, the whole known universe expected Hillary Clinton to win the 2016 election. Experts in politics and polling thought Donald Trump was on his way back up the escalator to shoot promos for “The Apprentice.”
But even assuming that the payments had to be reported as donations from the candidate to the campaign and were not, is that a crime for a grand jury to spend months investigating? Calling witnesses? Issuing indictments?
Hardly. Campaigns might be fined for a reporting violation. But federal prosecutors didn’t bring any charges against Trump for campaign finance violations or anything else.
Interestingly, a federal prosecutor was working in the Manhattan district attorney’s office for a while. And this is a very strange story.
Mark Pomerantz, according to his biography on the website of Simon & Schuster, publisher of his “fascinating inside account of the attempt to prosecute Donald Trump” (list price $29.99), “was a retired lawyer living a calm suburban life when he accepted an unexpected offer to join the staff of the district attorney of New York County in February 2021 to work on the investigation of former president Donald Trump.” Oddly, this job offer came with no salary. This former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York worked in the county district attorney’s office on the Trump case “pro bono” from February 2021 to February 2022.
He resigned in a huff after newly elected District Attorney Bragg, who replaced Cyrus Vance, Jr., reportedly expressed hesitancy about the evidence that supposedly justified an indictment of Trump.
And that’s when Pomerantz wrote his book, “People vs. Donald Trump.” In it, the publisher informs us, he tells “why he believes Donald Trump should be prosecuted.” The book was published two months ago.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan told Fox Business News that Bragg only decided to pursue charges against Trump after the former president announced his candidacy for 2024. “He’s leading in every single poll,” Jordan said, “so I think that’s what changed his mind.”
The Judiciary Committee is now investigating Alvin Bragg for election interference. However, with the way Republicans are raising money on this indictment, that could turn out to be a victimless crime.
Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley