In a new court filing, the Manhattan district attorney’s office accused Donald Trump of trying to use his presidential campaign to shield himself from prosecution. The filing claimed that Trump’s attempt to dismiss his criminal case over hush money payments is “essentially an attempt to evade criminal responsibility” because he is “politically powerful.”
“Defendant repeatedly suggests that because he is a current presidential candidate, the ordinary rules for criminal law and procedure should be applied differently here,” prosecutors from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office stated in the 99-page dossier. “Courts have repeatedly rejected defendant’s demands for special treatment and instead adhered to the core principle that the rule of law applies equally to the powerful as the powerless.”
A move to dismiss the criminal case was submitted by Trump’s attorneys in October, arguing that the investigation “has prejudiced President Trump and the public by interfering with his presidential campaign.” Prosecutors filed court documents in response to the motion. Attorneys representing the former president, Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles, have also spoken out against the prosecution, calling it “delayed” and pointing out that the accusations itself resulted “from a grand jury investigation that commenced approximately ten weeks after President Trump announced his candidature.”
In the New York case, Trump is charged with 34 felony charges surrounding his alleged falsification of company documents tied to hush money payments made to conceal affair allegations from porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. The indictment alleges that Trump ordered his former lawyer Michael Cohen to be reimbursed for hush money given to Daniels by the Trump Organisation under the false pretence that it was legal fees.
Trump has entered a not guilty plea and his trial is scheduled for the end of March 2024.
Prosecutors claimed in their brief that Trump was lying about the indictment bolstering his campaign, claiming that “the claim of any campaign impairment is undermined by defendant’s frequent public pronouncements that the indictment has strengthened his candidature.”
They gave a long explanation for the delay between when the investigation was opened in 2018 and when charges were filed, citing, among other things, an executive order by the governor extending the statute of limitations on the charges during the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump’s absence from the state while he was president, and their attempt to pause the inquiry shortly after it was opened in 2018 to accommodate an investigation into the same conduct by the FBI.
Bragg’s office has responded to Trump’s claims that he is being “selectively targeted” by saying that they did not look into what Trump’s lawyers called similar behaviour by the Clinton campaign during the 2016 presidential election, when it “improperly booked campaign expenses as legal payments in connection with the hiring of a research firm to prepare the so-called ‘Steele Dossier.'”
A former prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, Mark Pomerantz, resigned and wrote a book expressing his frustration with what he described as Bragg’s reluctance to pursue charges related to their investigation, and they described as “fanciful” his accusation that Bragg succumbed to public pressure to prosecute Trump.
The complaint states that a month before the book was released, prosecutors began presenting the case to the grand jury and that “this investigation was the subject of extensive public commentary advocating both for and against a prosecution.”
Thus, neither Pomerantz’s book nor the public’s reception of it can be said to have influenced Bragg, the prosecutors wrote.
Experts have disagreed on whether prosecutors can tie hush money payments to a federal election under the theory that the payments constituted an illegal campaign donation, an issue that the district attorney’s office has attempted to defend.
For the falsification of business records charges against Trump to be upgraded from misdemeanours to felonies, Bragg’s office must prove that Trump acted with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.
Trump’s attorneys have argued that prosecutors cannot cite the alleged violation of federal election law as the secondary felony he attempted to commit or conceal, citing Pomerantz’s statement that “No appellate court in New York had ever upheld (or rejected) this interpretation of the law.”
Prosecutors countered that their office has filed charges of felony falsification of business records on the basis of intent to commit or conceal a federal offence in at least six other recent cases.
This Office has a long history of filing first-degree charges of fabricating business documents where the defendant has either meant to commit or hide a federal offence, lending credence to the idea that federal offences can serve as valid object crimes.