Trump faces criminal charges with an indictment of 34 felony counts
Donald Trump was indicted on April 4 following an investigation looking into a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. The payment was made out for $130,000 and was paid by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen in late October 2016. The wire transfer came just 12 days before the 2016 election that Trump won against Hillary Clinton.
Sophomore and member of the Conservative Student Union Katherine Clark believes that Trump’s arrest will only inflate his supporters and political party.
“I would say that the arrest kind of riles up the Conservative Party,” Clark said. “And the people who back Trump, I read, are just funding him even more now.”
Trump is the first former United States president to face criminal charges, though the exact details would not be released until the time of his arraignment — when the indictment will be unsealed. Prosecutors accused him of being involved in a scheme to cover up potential sexual scandals during his presidential campaign. He has been arrested and charged with 34 felony counts of fraud in a 16-page-long indictment report. Trump, denying all allegations of an affair with Daniels, pleaded not guilty to the charges of falsifying business records.
“I feel like it’s a little excessive with the 34 charges against him,” Clark said. “Thirty-four charges. That’s a lot, and I don’t know if it’s possible for someone to hide that many business documents, but I think that if that is really the amount they found, these documents should be released to the public.”
In 2018, when Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court, he pointed the finger at Trump, saying it was he who directed the payoff to Daniels, a claim that federal prosecutors would later confirm. “Hush money” itself is not illegal, — as long as the information is not concerning or connected to a crime, or does not otherwise violate the law — but the money was looked into due to the method of payment and unlawful activity surrounding the act. The legal recording of Cohen’s reimbursement sparked the investigation, as Cohen falsified business records, saying that the payment was for legal fees.
Upper school history teacher Adam Walsh, who studied law at Wisconsin University and was a prosecutor in New York for around seven years, does not expect the prosecution and defense to agree on a plea deal.
“Ultimately, I cannot believe that the sides will reach a plea agreement,” Walsh said. “In this case, I would be 100 percent shocked if that were to happen, just given the stakes that are involved here because a plea requires the defendant to accept responsibility. And that would most likely have political ramifications for the future.”
Senior and member of the Progressive Student Union Bridget Wang believes that the court system is just and necessary, and the outcome of the case will be up to the law.
“I think the justice system is really necessary,” Wang said. “I think people obviously need to be held accountable for their actions regardless of whether you’re a public celebrity or politician. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions. And in that light, I think that the case is a necessary process that Trump has to go through.”
Trump’s legal team is looking into two options for the betterment of their defendant: a motion to dismiss the case, having the charges thrown out completely, or to have the case moved to a different court, called a change of venue. The first movement is often handled by lawyers and rarely results in a dismissal. A change of venue is considered a long shot but was argued because Trump does not believe that he can get a fair trial in Manhattan, where he thinks he is unpopular. He suggested instead moving the trial to Staten Island, a more conservative borough than Manhattan.
In the 2020 presidential election, Biden won Manhattan with 84.5 percent of the vote to Trump’s 14.5 percent. However, Trump won Staten Island with 61.6 percent of the vote to Biden’s 37.6 percent.
“VERY UNFAIR VENUE,” Trump wrote in his social media app, Truth Social, on April 4. “WITH SOME AREAS THAT VOTED 1% REPUBLICAN. THIS CASE SHOULD BE MOVED TO NEARBY STATEN ISLAND – WOULD BE A VERY FAIR AND SECURE LOCATION FOR THE TRIAL.”
When Cyrus R. Vance Jr. was the Manhattan district attorney from 2010 until 2021, he opened the investigation into Trump while he was in office and wrote in an email to KCRA Weather and News that he believed Trump’s lawyers would file a venue change.
“Change of venue motions have been granted, of course, but very rarely,” Vance said. “Pretty much anywhere or everywhere this case is tried, one can make the argument that jurors will either be biased for or against the former president.”
Vance said it is up to the judge and lawyers of the case to choose jurors that can compartmentalize their personal bias with the facts of the case.
“Many cases involve facts so well known that everyone will have heard of the case,” Vance said. “The jury selection process by the judge and the parties is to find jurors who are willing and swear to put aside anything else but the evidence they hear in court and the instructions on the law by the judge.”
Walsh is of the same opinion as Vance in the fact that a difficult aspect of the case will be to find willing and able jurors.
“The hardest part in this case, if it goes to trial, is that you are going to have to find a jury that is impartial and willing to try this case,” Walsh said. “That will be so hard. You’re going to have to find the 12 people with zero political interests whatsoever. A normal jury selection is around two hours, I’m going to say this will take around a week.”
Falsifying business records is usually charged as a misdemeanor, and the charges against Trump are the lowest category of felony in New York, carrying a maximum sentence of four years per count. Even so, time behind bars is unlikely to occur, and the most likely outcome will be a fine.
“Falsifying business records is only a felony if it’s to cover up another crime.” Walsh said. “Now, if he were to be convicted of only falsifying business records, then it’s a misdemeanor and then you are definitely just looking at a fine. That’s a case where it’s certainly a decisive loss for the prosecution. In the end, it may end up just being a really big fine, which, in normal defense situations they probably would have agreed to in the first place.”
Wang believes that this case, in the end, should be a move towards a less polarized political environment.
“I think in today’s political climate, the two democratic parties are really divided,” Wang said. “So hopefully, at the end of this, we can sort of come together and start to compromise. That’ll be up to our politicians and whoever is in charge, but I think this indictment case is just really just giving another example of how people need to be held accountable, regardless of political parties.”