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A Surprise Accusation Bolsters a Risky Case Against Trump

A Surprise Accusation Bolsters a Risky Case Against Trump

A Surprise Accusation Bolsters a Risky Case Against Trump On Tuesday, a previously sealed indictment was revealed against former President Donald Trump, containing an unexpected allegation that reinforces what several legal experts have considered a daring and unprecedented case.

Prosecutors assert that Trump fabricated business records as part of a plan to deceive state tax authorities. Many observers have been speculating for weeks about the specific charges that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg would bring against Trump.

Some thought that accusing him of concealing campaign finance violations through bookkeeping fraud could pose significant legal obstacles. Although this accusation is a crucial component of Bragg's argument, it is not the only one.

 According to Rebecca Roiphe, a former state prosecutor and current professor at New York Law School, analysts have been predicting that Trump might be accused of lying about hush-money payments in order to influence an election,
a theory that relies on contentious legal topics and could be challenging to demonstrate. She explained that the indictment also alleges that Trump forged records to perpetrate a state tax offense, which is a less complex allegation that sidesteps possible obstacles.
 The indictment outlined 34 charges of bookkeeping fraud concerning Donald Trump's repayment to his ex-lawyer and problem-solver, Michael Cohen, in 2017. Cohen had given $130,000 in hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election. Daniels had claimed that she and Trump had engaged in an extramarital relationship.

A Surprise Accusation Bolsters a Risky Case Against Trump

According to a statement of facts accompanying the indictment, several business records relating to those payments made to Michael Cohen were inaccurately portrayed as payment for legal services rendered in 2017. For each of these documents, Donald Trump has been charged by a grand jury with felony bookkeeping fraud, as per Article 175 of the New York Penal Law. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to four years in prison.

Typically, bookkeeping fraud is a misdemeanor offense. However, for it to be classified as a felony, prosecutors must demonstrate that the defendant had the intention of committing, aiding, or concealing another crime, which raises questions about what other crime Alvin Bragg would assert to be involved in this case.

A Surprise Accusation Bolsters a Risky Case Against Trump

On Tuesday, Alvin Bragg hinted that the prosecutors were presenting various hypotheses for the second crime, which could give judges and jurors other options to classify bookkeeping fraud as a felony offense.

As expected, Bragg is alluding to purported breaches of both federal and state election laws, which has given some of Trump's staunchest opponents pause. In essence, it remains uncertain whether paying off a paramour was a personal or campaign expense.

Regarding the legal procedure, citing federal law, in this case, raises an untested issue about whether a state prosecutor can invoke a federal crime when they do not have the jurisdiction to prosecute that crime. However, Article 175 does not state that the second crime must necessarily be a state law offense.

On the other hand, invoking state law raises the question of why New York's election regulations would be relevant to a federal presidential election that falls under federal laws, which generally supersede state laws.

During a news conference, Bragg referred to both state and federal election laws. He cited a New York state election law that deems it a misdemeanor to collude to promote a candidacy through illegal means but did not provide a reason why this law would be applicable to a presidential election. He also discussed a federal cap on campaign contributions, but it was not clear why he had the authority to charge a crime he lacked the power to prosecute.

Bragg introduced another potential theory, alleging that Trump falsified business records to support planned false claims to tax authorities.

According to the statement of facts that accompanied the indictment, "The participants also took steps that mischaracterized, for tax purposes, the true nature of the payments made in furtherance of the scheme," Bragg wrote. The statement of facts also described how Trump paid Cohen more than the amount he had paid Daniels, covering income taxes that Cohen would face. Bragg emphasized this point further during his news conference.

However, his phrasing in certain instances was unclear. At one point, he appeared to imply that a planned false statement to New York tax authorities was simply an instance of how Trump and Cohen allegedly broke the state law against conspiring to promote a candidate through illegal means.

Rewritten: Bragg also alleged that Trump planned to submit false information to the state government in addition to covering up campaign finance crimes committed in 2016. According to Bragg, Trump intended to lie to tax authorities by characterizing repayments to Cohen as income for legal services performed in 2017.
This plan to mischaracterize the repayments as income to the New York state tax authorities was presented as a stand-alone offense. During the courtroom proceedings, prosecutor Christopher Conroy accused Trump of creating a series of false business records that misrepresented the true nature of the payments,
including for tax purposes. The prosecutors' mention of the planned false statements on tax filings was seen as a significant development by legal experts, given the question of how bookkeeping fraud charges could rise to felonies.
According to Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University, the inclusion of false tax filings in the charges may prevent potential legal challenges that could arise if the felony charges were solely based on federal and state election laws. However, some election law experts,
such as Richard L. Hasen from UCLA and Benjamin L. Ginsberg, an election lawyer for the Republican Party, remained skeptical about the ability to successfully use campaign finance laws alone to elevate the bookkeeping fraud charges to felonies. Despite the addition of the false tax statement claim,
Robert Kelner, the chair of the election and political law practice group at the firm Covington & Burling, still had doubts about whether it demonstrated an intention to commit another crime.

A Surprise Accusation Bolsters a Risky Case Against Trump

According to a legal expert, the local prosecutors appear to be relying on Michael Cohen's guilty plea in a federal campaign finance case as part of their case against the former president. However,

there were doubts about the legal basis for the case against Cohen, which could make it a shaky foundation for a case against Trump. The prosecutors also make vague references to steps taken to violate tax laws, but provide little information to support their claims. Despite this, Bragg stressed that the prosecutors did not need to provide specifics about the other crimes Trump may have intended to commit at this stage.

According to Barry Kamins, a retired New York Supreme Court judge who is now in private practice, Bragg will eventually have to reveal more details about the case in the next phase.

Kamins explained that during the discovery process, prosecutors are required to disclose more information about the alleged violations of election laws and tax issues that were mentioned by Bragg in his statement of facts. Defense counsel will be able to learn more about these issues during the discovery phase. READ MORE

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