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Trump’s Criminal Trial: Unprecedented legal battle with Political ramifications looms

[Photo: AP]

Azra Hoosen | ah@radioislam.co.za
18 April 2024 | 13:30 CAT
5 min read

Former President Donald Trump is facing his first criminal trial, which is centred around 34 counts of fraud related to hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election; it marks a significant legal battle for Trump, who has pleaded not guilty.

The allegations stem from payments made to Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump, which he denies. The trial focuses on reimbursements Trump made to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, regarding these payments. While hush money payments themselves are not illegal, prosecutors argue that Trump improperly recorded the reimbursements as legal expenses, constituting a crime. This trial could impact Trump’s political ambitions as it may require his absence from the campaign trail during the eight-week proceedings.

In an interview with Radio islam, Daily Maverick associate editor Brooks Spector clarified that the “hush money” description is incorrect.

“He is not on trial for ‘hush-money’. Technically, that’s not a crime; that’s giving you money so you won’t talk about something I find unsavoury or embarrassing; but the trial is about giving the money to his then-attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay Stormy Daniels; he then hid in the financial reporting that payment, as if it were a legitimate business expense or campaign contribution so it’s the falsification of business records and financial reporting that is the problem. The reason why the payment was allegedly made was that various people deemed that it would be really embarrassing in the closing weeks of the then-campaign years back if word got out that he was handing out cash to women with whom he had relations with beyond his spouse. That sounds more complicated, and that’s why people shrink it down to the ‘hush money trial, ‘” he said.

According to Spector, bringing a former president into a criminal proceeding after they have been president is unprecedented. While presidents have faced impeachment and Senate trials, none have been convicted by the Senate.

“In any case, the penalty for a successful conviction of impeachment is losing your day job as opposed to being one trial for a variety of felony charges as Trump will be now. This is extraordinarily unprecedented. People are grasping for straws to figure out ways to explain it all,” he said.

Spector suggests that some Republicans might feel uneasy about voting for Trump if he is convicted in the trial.

“If he is convicted of this crime, some of the supporters feel more awkward about supporting him if he were convicted of this crime. But there are a lot of Republicans who say this is all concocted and made up, deliberately just politics, very much echoing what Donald Trump calls all the different indictments handed down against him; this is the first of several others,” he says.

In the US, the election encompasses more than just the presidency; there are 435 seats in the House of Representatives and approximately 35 Senate seats up for contention. In both cases, control of these chambers will be at stake.

“If the man leading the party is a convicted criminal, by virtue of the ending of this trial, it is going to have some unpredictable but likely difficult impacts on any number of the people running for congress or even the senate in districts that are very closely divided; there is a usual tendency of people to go into the voting booth and vote for the full panel of people running for office. If the candidate for president is a convicted felon, it is an extraordinarily interesting roll of the dice that should make Republicans very nervous,” he said.

Spector highlighted another complication, noting that a significant portion of the fundraising efforts among Republicans is being redirected, not unlawfully, to cover Trump’s legal expenses, which are known to be substantial. The remaining funds are allocated to support the campaigns of other House of Representatives members.

He noted that none of the polls indicated that Trump won the election by gaining even a plurality of Democrats or independent individuals who haven’t registered.

“You don’t win an election with 40-something % of the vote. The other side of the coin is that once the trial day concludes, Trump will have a press conference or media event every day in the afternoon,” he said.

He highlighted that recent polls show the two candidates neck and neck at the national level, with the difference being statistically insignificant. In the U.S., elections are won state by state, not based on a broad national poll. He said turnout is crucial; any efforts won’t secure a victory if you can’t rally your supporters to show up.

Spector said predicting outcomes becomes more challenging, with a significant portion of voting occurring before election day. People typically vote based on what they believe is best for their lives, families, personal income, and future rather than focusing on foreign policy issues.

“The problem with the Israel—Gaza situation is that a chunk of the people who traditionally would have supported a democratic candidate without even thinking about it have decided they may not do so because of that issue. The number of those people is in the air, so I am not convinced I know the answer to that problem,” he said.

Spector emphasises that it’s almost certain that voters in November will have to choose between two candidates for president, neither of whom they genuinely support. This should be a significant concern for Biden’s supporters.

LISTEN to the full interview with Ml Junaid Kharsany and Daily Maverick associate editor Brooks Spector, here.

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