On March 18, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced via Truth Social that he would soon be prosecuted by Manhattan’s district attorney, Alvin Bragg, on charges concerning a hush money payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016. Speculation surrounded this claim and what charges Trump might face for days until the Manhattan grand jury formally indicted him on March 31.
On Tuesday, April 4, Trump turned himself in for arraignment at a New York courthouse. Rumors had been swirling in regard to the number of charges Bragg would bring against the nation’s 45th president. As Trump sat in a courtroom, the indictment was unsealed to formally charge him with 34 felony counts of falsification of business records in the first degree, all of which Trump pleaded not guilty to.
University of Maine’s own Mark Brewer, professor and interim chair of the department of political science, sat down with the Maine Campus to discuss the likely implications of Bragg’s decision to indict a former president, as well as the likelihood that further charges will be brought against Trump in the foreseeable future.
Brewer first acknowledged the extent to which Trump’s situation is unprecedented. Although Trump is not the first current or former U.S. president to find himself in hot water, he is the first in history to face charges in a criminal case.
“Nixon had a criminal indictment drafted against him, and then it didn’t end up being issued because Ford pardoned him preemptively…Clinton was under grand jury investigation for four years and he cut a deal at the end of his [presidency]…We know that the legal process will play out, which could involve his [Trump’s] attorneys cutting a deal with the prosecutors. It could involve going to trial before a jury of his peers,” Brewer said.
District Attorney Bragg seeked to justify his decision to criminally prosecute Trump over hush money payments by arguing that it was the right thing to do.
“Under New York state law, it is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud, intent to conceal another crime,” Brewer explained. Although this one statement seems reasonable enough, Bragg has come under fire for the undeniable political motivation that has, to an extent, driven his choice to prosecute Trump. Brewer spoke on this as well. “Even a lot of democrats see this as politically motivated. These democrats are going after Trump on this. Alvin Bragg, the prosecutor, is a democrat…Trump keeps saying, ‘Witch hunt! Witch hunt!’ and I think a lot of people are going to agree with him,” Brewer noted.
The current charges against Trump in Manhattan could be the least of his worries moving forward.
“This might not be the only set of indictments because he’s under grand jury investigation in Fulton County, Georgia for election tampering. That investigation is ongoing. He’s also the subject of two separate federal investigations that also have a grand jury. One is his classified document handling storage at Mar-a-Lago, and the other…his actions related to the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol,” Brewer said.
Brewer emphasized that despite the presence of a clear political motive in this case, Trump is not to be let off the hook.
“You don’t want to send the message that somebody’s above the law and that because he’s a former president, I’m not going to prosecute him for what’s clearly illegal, right? It’s clearly illegal. He did it. He committed a crime…but I’m slow-walking this hard,” Brewer stated. “If he’s indicted for election tampering in Georgia, that’s different. If he’s indicted and charged criminally with improperly taking classified documents, and then if he’s indicted for contributing to an insurrection, that might be different…I would see him actively inciting his followers to charge the U.S. Capitol as very different from paying off a woman that you had an affair with.”
It is important to understand that despite the unprecedented nature of Trump’s current legal troubles, his plans to run for reelection remain unaffected regardless of how things play out.
“One thing that the indictment, or any indictments that come forward won’t stop him from doing, is running for president. None of those things make him ineligible to be president. He can be found guilty of any of these alleged crimes and still run for president. He could run for president from prison. The only thing that makes him ineligible to serve as president is if he were impeached and removed from office,” Brewer said.
The fate of Donald Trump undoubtedly remains as questionable and controversial as ever.