Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg’s indictment of former President Trump takes an open-ended approach to the charges that some critics of the unprecedented prosecution see as a weakness. What the detractors have overlooked are the substantial and unanticipated legal and factual strengths in the case Bragg outlined.
A key question in advance of Tuesday’s unsealing of the indictment concerned how Bragg would augment the easily proven misdemeanor charges of falsifying business records. Under New York law, those offenses become felonies only if they’re in furtherance of another crime. Many theories were circulating as to what second crime Bragg would allege, and most of the possibilities had noteworthy shortcomings.
Bragg’s answer was essentially “I’ll tell you later.” He took advantage of the wording of the state law, which requires only that the misdemeanor be done in service of “a crime,” to buy himself maximum time and flexibility.
Bragg may have to pick his crime down the line, perhaps in answer to an expected defense motion for a “bill of particulars” — that is, a fleshing out of the Delphic indictment to enable Trump’s team to prepare an appropriate defense.
On the other hand, the prosecutor may not have to specify a second crime. The jury instructions on falsification of business records say it’s a felony if the defendant acted “with intent to defraud that included an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.” It’s therefore not clear that they require the jury even to agree on what the augmenting crime is.
But Bragg this week also added a potent possible second crime beyond what many observers expected. It emerges from the fact that in making his lawyer Michael Cohen “whole” for the hush money he paid to Stormy Daniels, Trump included enough to compensate Cohen for the taxes he would have to pay on the “income” — that is, on the phony legal retainer that camouflaged the hush money. [Continue reading…]