By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump could be indicted as early as this week in New York for allegedly covering up hush money payments to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign, nearly seven years after the money changed.
But any trial of the former US president was still more than a year away, legal experts said, and could coincide with the final months of the 2024 presidential campaign as Trump seeks a return to the White House.
In a social media post on Saturday, Trump said he expected to be arrested on Tuesday and urged his supporters to protest, although a spokesman later said Trump had not been notified of an imminent arrest.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has presented evidence to a New York grand jury for paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair, sources say. Trump has denied the affair, and his attorney has accused Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, of racketeering.
If indicted, Trump would become the first former US president to be prosecuted. Polls show he is leading other potential rivals for the Republican nomination, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to make a bid for the White House.
The average New York criminal case takes more than a year to progress from indictment to trial, said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney, and Trump’s case is far from typical.
This raises the possibility that Trump will face trial in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign, or even after Election Day, even though indicting an elected president or president on state charges would break new legal ground. If elected, he would not have the power to pardon himself from state charges.
“This is so unprecedented that it’s hard for me to say,” Agnifilo said when asked if a judge would try Trump just before the election. “I think it’s difficult.”
The New York case is one of several focused on Trump, including an investigation into the disruption of the Georgia election and two federal probes into his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters trying to to reverse his defeat his keeping of secret documents after leaving the White House.
CHALLENGE THE CASE
In his early career in real estate, television stardom, and then politics, the notoriously argumentative Trump used aggressive counterattacks and delaying tactics when faced with legal challenges.
Trump has accused Bragg, an elected Democrat, of targeting him for political reasons and may seek to get the charges dismissed on those grounds.
Trump would also likely pursue other avenues, some of which could raise thorny legal issues that will take time to resolve.
During his tenure as president, Trump reimbursed Cohen for payments made to Daniels, and prosecutors who charged Cohen said in court filings that the payments were incorrectly recorded as legal services. The New York Times, citing sources, has reported that the most likely charges against Trump would be falsifying business records, typically a misdemeanor.
To make these charges a felony, prosecutors must prove Trump falsified records to cover up a second crime. One possibility, the Times says, is that prosecutors could claim the payment itself violated the Campaign Finance Act, since it was effectively an illegal secret donation to boost his campaign.
Using the state election law to bring a charge of false business records is an untested legal theory, experts said, and Trump’s attorneys would certainly challenge it.
Trump could also challenge whether the statute of limitations – in this case five years – should have expired. Under New York law, the statute of limitations can be extended if the defendant has been abroad, but Trump can argue that the office of US President should not apply.
“There’s a whole range of possibilities,” said David Shapiro, a former FBI agent and prosecutor and lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “It’s a dream case for defenders.”
FINGERPRINTS AND FLAG PHOTOGRAPHS
In the short term, any indictment would force Trump to travel to the district attorney’s office in downtown New York to surrender. In business cases, the defendant’s attorneys and prosecutors usually agree on a date and time rather than arresting the person at home.
Trump would have his fingerprints and mug shot taken and appear in court. He would likely be released on his own and allowed to go home, experts said.
Trump’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, told CNBC on Friday that Trump will surrender if charged. If Trump refused to come voluntarily, prosecutors could seek his extradition from Florida, where he is currently staying.
In an ironic twist, DeSantis, in his capacity as governor, would normally have to grant formal approval for an extradition request, although Florida legal experts said his role would be purely administrative.
(Reporting by Joseph Axe; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen and Tom Hals; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)
Source : news.yahoo.com