Trump Goes to Trial in Hush Money Case as Legal Experts Voice Skepticism Over the Merits

'The weaknesses in this case are clear,' says Touro Law Center professor Richard Klein

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April 15, 2024

Former president Donald Trump is scheduled to appear at a Manhattan courthouse on Monday as the trial over payments sent from the Trump Organization to porn star Stormy Daniels gets underway. The case will center on Trump’s culpability for the alleged falsification of Trump Organization business records, but legal experts are voicing skepticism over the merits of the case.

Brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, the case was considered dead three years ago, when Bragg's predecessor and federal prosecutors abandoned it. But Bragg, who campaigned on his record suing the Trump administration more than a hundred times as a deputy in the New York state attorney general’s office, revived the case in 2021, filing felony charges against Trump last year alleging he had falsified the business records pertaining to the Daniels payments.

A number of legal experts have questioned Bragg's decision to seek felony charges in the case.

In New York, charges over falsified business records are typically brought as misdemeanors and are "rarely the senior offense in an indictment," according to the Financial Times. For the crime to rise to a felony, prosecutors must prove that the defendant falsified records to "commit or conceal another crime."

Bragg is arguing that Trump falsified records "in order to conceal damaging information and unlawful activity from American voters before and after the 2016 election." For Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor, that argument is a weak one, given that the records in question were allegedly submitted months after the election by Trump's private company.

"Voters didn't have any right to see them—you couldn't influence any voters or influence the election," he told the Times. "There is no question that there is bad behavior here. The question is, are the particular criminal statutes violated."

Other experts have questioned the witnesses Bragg will rely on to prosecute the case. Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, for example, is the star witness in the case. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in 2018 and is facing further perjury allegations.

"The weaknesses in the case are clear," said Touro Law Center professor Richard Klein. "For any jury to assess the credibility of the star witness for the prosecution, it's gonna be a … tough barrier for Bragg's office to overcome."

Bragg's case is considered the least serious of the four criminal cases Trump faces and carries the lightest sentence. During a February podcast appearance, Democratic superlawyer David Boies called those cases "greatly mistaken."

"If you take, for example, the cases against him in New York … you have to ask yourself: would these cases have been brought against him if his name were Donald Smith?" Boies said. "And I'm afraid that a very large number of people in this country believe they would not have."

Trump's Manhattan trial will begin Monday with jury selection, a process that is expected to take one or two weeks. Because the case is criminal, Trump is required to attend court proceedings in person. The trial is off on Wednesdays, and proceedings are expected to take about seven hours each day.