By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The events underlying Donald Trump’s indictment in New York — paying hush money to a porn star who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with him — happened nearly seven years ago.
But a potential trial is at least more than a year away, legal experts said, raising the possibility that the former US president could face a jury in a Manhattan courtroom during or even after the 2024 presidential campaign as he faces a return to the US White House.
A grand jury has voted to indict Trump after hearing evidence of a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 campaign. The money was to buy her silence about the encounter she says they had years ago.
The charges weren’t clear, although legal analysts said it was likely Trump would be prosecuted for falsifying business records for concealing the true nature of the payments.
Trump has denied Daniels’ allegation, and his attorney has accused Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, of racketeering.
Trump, the first former US president to be prosecuted, cites potential rivals for the Republican nomination, opinion polls show, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for the White House.
In the first three quarters of 2022, the average Manhattan criminal trial took more than 900 days to go from indictment to a court decision, according to data from the state Criminal Justice Department — and Trump’s case is far from typical.
That could delay any trial beyond Election Day in November 2024, though impeaching a president-elect 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,” Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney, said earlier this month 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 who attempted to to overturn his November 2020 election loss. Another investigation looks into the safekeeping of classified 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 Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat, of targeting him for political reasons and may seek to dismiss the charges on those grounds.
Trump is also likely to pursue other avenues, some of which could raise thorny legal issues that will take time to resolve.
Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen said he coordinated with Trump over payments to Daniels and a second wife, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also said she had a sexual relationship with him, which Trump denies.
As president, Trump reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels payments, and federal prosecutors charging Cohen said in court filings that the payments were incorrectly recorded as legal services.
Falsifying business records – the charge legal analysts believe most likely – is usually a misdemeanor.
To make these charges a felony, prosecutors must prove Trump falsified records to cover up a second crime. One possibility, according to the New York Times, is that prosecutors could claim that the payment itself violated the state’s campaign finance law, since it was effectively an illegal secret donation to boost his campaign.
But applying the state election law in this way — and in a case involving a federal rather than a state candidate — is an unexamined legal theory, legal 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, before news of the indictment broke. “It’s a dream case for defenders.”
FINGERPRINTS AND FLAG PHOTOGRAPHS
According to a Bragg spokesman, prosecutors and Trump’s legal team are negotiating a surrender date by which Trump would have to travel from his home in Florida to the district attorney’s office in New York to be fingerprinted and photographed.
Trump would then first appear in court, where he would be formally charged. He would likely be allowed to go home afterwards, experts said.
The New York Times and NBC News, citing his attorneys, reported that Trump is expected to surrender next week. If Trump decides not to come voluntarily for any reason, prosecutors could seek his extradition from Florida.
In an ironic twist, DeSantis, in his capacity as governor, would normally have to grant formal approval for an extradition request.
In a Twitter post Thursday, DeSantis said he would not assist with any extradition requests and called the prosecution politically motivated. Florida legal experts, however, said the governor’s role in the process was purely administrative and questioned whether DeSantis could lawfully deny such a request.
If necessary, according to experts, the Manhattan prosecutor’s office could also go to court to secure Trump’s appearance in New York.
(Reporting by Joseph Axe; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen and Tom Hals; Editing by Scott Malone, Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)
Source : news.yahoo.com