We should probably just make a macro of that headline on our computers, as Donald Trump has so many legal problems that we keep needing it. There are so many that it is hard to keep track of them. Before getting into the latest development, here's a little table summarizing them. The order (in our non-lawyer opinion), is from least threatening to most threatening.
|Civil||New York||E. Jean Carroll||Defamation lawsuit for calling Carroll a liar when she claimed he raped her|
|Criminal||New York||D.A. Alvin Bragg||Falsifying business records, possibly tax fraud and more|
|Criminal||Georgia||D.A. Fani Willis||Interfering with a state election|
|Criminal||Federal||Spec. Prosecutor Jack Smith||Leading an insurrection trying to overturn a federal election|
|Criminal||Federal||Spec. Prosecutor Jack Smith||Hiding classified defense documents even after being warned|
The latest development is in the defamation lawsuit, so let's start there. Remember that on the infamous Access Hollywood tape, Trump describes himself as being attracted to beautiful women. He said: "I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything." On Friday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled that the tape could be played at the trial of the defamation lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll. He noted that Trump has already admitted that "he has had contact with women's genitalia in the past without their consent, or has attempted to do so." The judge reasoned that since Trump has essentially admitted that he committed sexual assault in the past, the jury might want to know this when evaluating Carroll's claim that he did it to her.
In addition, Kaplan ruled that two other women who claim that Trump sexually assaulted them may be called as witnesses at the trial. Jessica Leeds claims that Trump groped her on a flight from New York to Texas in 1979. Natasha Stoynoff, a reporter, claims that Trump attacked her when she was interviewing him for People magazine in 2005 at Mar-a-Lago. The combination of Trump admitting that he has no problem with sexual assault and two other women stating under oath that he did it to them make some members of the jury think: "Hmm, sexual assault seems to be part of his standard repertoire." In the end, the case comes down to whether the jury believes Trump raped her or whether Carroll is making the whole thing up. It's kind of a "he said, she said" case, except that she has three witnesses, one of whom is Trump himself.
We know that Trump is a skinflint, but given all his more serious trouble (below), we are surprised he hasn't tried to make this one go away. Carroll is a journalist and author. She's probably not rich. If Trump were to offer her, say, $10 million to drop the case, there's a good chance she would take it. After all, she might lose the case in court or win and be awarded much less than that. That said, if her primary goal is to take Trump down a few pegs—and it might well be—then no amount of money is going to cause her to drop the matter.
Now let's briefly summarize the other four cases, in case you've lost track. Former Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance was doing his best impression of Inspector Javert going after Trump for paying $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels (actually, Stephanie Clifford) for what is probably the most-expensive one-night-stand in all of history. Vance also went after Trump for paying $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep quiet about their 10-month affair. There were at something like 50 "encounters," so the unit price was a more reasonable $3,000 each. McDougal was very naive and thought Trump loved her, even though he had recently married Melania. Daniels was probably just curious about Trump. Since her occupation required her to have sex with men she didn't know, one more was no big deal, even a freebie. Daniels never said whether Trump tried to pay her in cash. McDougal said Trump tried to pay her in cash the first time and she was very upset and told him: "I'm not that kind of girl."
Anyway, when Alvin Bragg succeeded Vance after his retirement, practically the first thing he did was tell the two very experienced prosecutors on the case, Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz, to drop the matter. They were furious and quit the D.A.'s office. More recently, Bragg has started it up again. He hasn't said what the charges might be. However, Trump's fixer at the time, Michael Cohen, paid the two women himself and Trump later reimbursed him with $420,000 to cover the payments, the taxes Cohen would have to pay on the income, and a bonus for work well done. Trump didn't disclose the payments as election expenses, which might be a violation of election law, although Trump's lawyers could argue that he wanted the women to keep quiet so Melania wouldn't find out. Then it wouldn't be an election law violation. But Trump is a pennypincher, so he had his company claim the $420,000 as "legal fees," which is a legitimate business expense. Of course, the payment wasn't for legal advice, so Bragg could charge Trump with falsifying business records, a state crime. Also, by claiming a $420,000 deduction to which he wasn't entitled, Trump reduced his state income tax. That's tax fraud. When choosing which crimes to indict Trump for, Bragg has to consider how he will explain them to a jury. To us, it seems that falsifying business records and tax fraud are easy to explain to a jury, but the election law violation is much trickier. Last week, Bragg invited Trump to testify before a grand jury. Typically that means that an indictment is imminent.
In the Georgia case, Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis empaneled a special grand jury to investigate crimes related to the 2020 Georgia election. It wrote a report that Willis handed to a regular grand jury for possible indictments. In late February, the forewoman of the special grand jury, Emily Kohrs, a 30-year-old woman who has worked as a customer-service representative but is currently unemployed—and who didn't vote in 2020—spilled some beans. She indicated that the special grand jury recommended indicting multiple people, including at least one whose indictment will surprise no one. Willis has also said that indictments are imminent.
Less is known about the two cases special prosecutor Jack Smith is working on, except that Smith is a ferocious prosecutor who leaves no stone unturned. He is working on two unrelated cases. One is Trump's role in the Jan. 6 coup attempt. That is a messy case and it might be difficult to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump violated some specific statute. One possibility might be "interfering with a federal proceeding," but Smith can pick any crime he thinks Trump committed and which a jury can understand. The other one is very cut and dried. Trump took classified defense documents home with him after he left the White House. When federal investigators found out, he denied having them. This is clearly a case of wilfully holding defense documents at an unauthorized location. If Smith brings this charge or another one related to classified material, he has a very strong case.
Anyway, hopefully this brings everyone up to speed on all of Trump's legal woes. The $64 million question is: "What happens if Trump is indicted in New York and Georgia in the next 2 months?" Trump will call it all a witch hunt and almost certainly continue with his campaign. Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on the presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in 2016, said: "Given all the unknowns right now, it's far too early to know the political impact. That said, it's hard to see how this is a positive for Trump, long-term. At a minimum, it's a distraction from the relatively well-disciplined campaign he's run in recent weeks. It will remind a lot of voters about the chaos that they really disliked during his administration." We agree with it not being a plus for Trump. His core supporters won't care, but nothing was going to dislodge them. However, Republicans who voted for him in 2020 because they hate Democrats might become more open to Ron DeSantis or some other Republican. In 1991, Edwin Edwards ran for a fourth term as governor of Louisiana—after having been tried and acquitted for multiple corruption-related crimes. His runoff opponent was KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Some of his supporters had bumper stickers reading: "Vote for the crook—It's important." Edwards won. Maybe Trump will try to emulate Edwards although, last we checked, Joe Biden has never been a member of the KKK. Other Edwards supporters had bumper stickers reading: "Vote for the lizard, not the wizard," but that isn't apropos here. (V)