The Trump affair

Khaled Dawoud , Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

The charge of paying a porn star hush money ahead of elections would end the career of practically any politician — except for former US president Donald Trump, reports Khaled Dawoud

The Trump affair


Democrats might feel vindicated after seeing Donald Trump in a New York court on Monday. The former Republican president is facing 34 criminal charges for allegedly falsifying documents to cover up paying hush money to a porn star in order to keep their affair secret ahead of the 2016 presidential elections.

The controversial billionaire with a huge ego was receiving the treatment of an ordinary American criminal defendant, held accountable for his actions for the first time, and forced to wait a long time while listening to the judge’s admonition about repeatedly breaking a gag order imposed a few weeks ago preventing him from attacking judges, prosecutors, witnesses, and now jurors in his inflammatory social media posts.

Yet the target of the trial’s outcome and the thrilling details likely to come out of it in order to inflict harm on Trump’s already tarnished reputation ahead of the more decisive 2024 re-run against US President Joe Biden is unlikely to be achieved. Trump was once quoted as saying that he had so much immunity he could shoot down a man in New York without fearing prosecution for being a star figure with a lot of popularity. While this might sound like regular Trump talk, it reflects his deep confidence that his Make America Great Again or MAGA support base as well as right-wing Republicans and wealthy billionaires will remain on his side whatever charges, allegations or scandals come up against him.

After all, the 91 charges that Trump is facing in four separate federal trials in New York, Washington DC, Florida, and Georgia all feed into his theory of being the victim of a corrupt justice system dominated by Democrats and liberals who are “weaponising the justice system” against him, as he keeps saying in nearly every speech he has delivered since he was forced from the White House in late January 2021 after refusing to recognise the outcome of the late 2020 elections, to this day insisting that they were rigged to give Biden his win.  For Trump and his supporters, all four trials are nothing but acts of revenge by Democrats who are willing to do anything to prevent him from winning the upcoming presidential elections on 5 November.

Even Democratic Party strategists and analysts would admit that the hush money payment case that opened on Monday in New York was actually the weakest among all four cases he has been facing. The more critical cases are those related to his role in inciting riots at the Capitol on 6 January, 2021 in order to prevent Congress from certifying election results declaring Biden the winner, as well as the case in Florida in which he is charged with illegally possessing highly secret US documents which he took into his possession before leaving the White House.

Yet, with the Trump-leaning Supreme Court practically delaying those trials while hearing arguments by lawyers of the former American president that he enjoyed immunity while he took his decisions before the end of his term, the New York hush money case involving a porn star and another escort with whom Trump happily posed in photos before becoming president, was the only one that made it to court ahead of the upcoming November presidential elections.

Most legal experts predict that, even if Trump is convicted, he will not be sentenced to a jail term, considering that this would be his first offense of its kind. More importantly, by US law being convicted would not prevent him from running in the upcoming elections, or even serving as president.

Democrats have no doubt that hardline Trump supporters would remain on his side whatever the charges or convictions he faces. Yet the bet is on so-called “independent voters” who said in recent opinion polls that a court sentence against Trump would influence their decision on who to vote for, and that they did not believe it was proper for an American president to be a convicted criminal. This was probably the key reason why Trump’s lawyers tried hard to delay the opening of the trial and asked to move it to a state other than New York, which always votes for Democrats. When those attempts failed, Trump turned against the judge in the case, saying that his daughter worked for an organisation backed by US Vice President Kamala Harris, and that he was himself a die-hard Democrat.

In remarks he made nearly daily while attending the jury selection process, and the opening of his trial on Monday, Trump stated that the key goal behind his trial was to keep him away from the campaign trail, and prevent him from attending rallies in swing states. But his campaign managers are counting on the fact that even if the trial concluded in four to six weeks, and regardless of the outcome, he would still have some time to campaign ahead of 5 November. In American politics, four to five months is a long time ahead of presidential elections.

“I’m the leading candidate... and this is what they’re trying to take me off the trail for. Checks being paid to a lawyer,” Trump said on Monday.

On Monday, prosecutors said Trump schemed “to corrupt the 2016 presidential election”. They said Trump’s hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels was an illegal payment to illicitly influence the 2016 election which he then tried to cover up by falsifying business records. “This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election — to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behaviour, using doctored corporate records and bank forms to conceal those payments along the way,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said. “It was election fraud, pure and simple. The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” Colangelo said.

But defence Attorney Todd Blanche began his opening statement by saying, “Donald Trump is innocent.” He argued that Trump was not involved with any of the business records he’s accused of falsifying beyond signing the checks. The opening statements served as an introduction to the colourful cast of characters that feature prominently in that tawdry saga: Daniels, the porn star; Michael Cohen, the lawyer who prosecutors say paid her on behalf of Trump, and David Pecker, the tabloid publisher who agreed to function as the campaign’s “eyes and ears” and who served as the prosecution’s first witness on Monday. Pecker was back on the stand Tuesday, when the court also heard arguments on whether Trump violated Judge Juan Merchan’s gag order with a series of Truth Social posts about witnesses over the last week.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 April, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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