The Legal Gods Are Not Looking Kindly on Donald Trump

Legally speaking, it’s been a rough few months for Donald Trump. In April, he was indicted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office in connection to a hush money payment made prior to the 2016 election. In May, a jury found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll, ordering him to pay the writer $5 million. In June, he was charged with a cornucopia of crimes related to his handling of classified documents. On Monday, he lost his bid to have Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis removed from the investigation into his attempt to overturn the election in Georgia, clearing the way for her to potentially charge him in a matter of weeks. On Tuesday, we learned that he was officially a target of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into his attempt to overturn the election—the scope of which reportedly took his lawyers by surprise—and would likely be indicted in that case. One day after that, a judge denied his request for a new trial against Carroll, as well as his request to reduce the damages owed from $5 million to less than $1 million. And if he thought he might get a brief reprieve from this cosmic assault from the legal gods, he unfortunately thought very wrong.

NBC News reports that William Russell, a former Trump administration aide who currently works for Trump’s presidential campaign, is expected to testify Thursday to the grand jury investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. That’s significant because Russell was reportedly “with Trump for much of the day on January 6, 2021,” meaning he could theoretically speak to the fact that Trump:

  • Demanded supporters with guns be let through for his speech on the Ellipse, allegedly saying: “I don’t fucking care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me…. They can march to the Capitol from here.”

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  • Flew into a rage when he was told he couldn’t go to the Capitol, allegedly tried to grab the steering wheel of the vehicle driving him back to the White House, and lunged for the neck of the Secret Service agent who told him he couldn’t join his supporters
  • “Gleefully” watched the insurrection unfold on TV and allegedly said, “Look at all of the people fighting for me”
  • Refused to act to stop the violence “until after it was clear that the riot had failed to disrupt Congress’s session to confirm his election defeat”
  • Declined to concede the election or suggest that the attack on the Capitol was a crime, even while finally recording a video in which he directed his supporters to “go home” (and told them “you’re very special” and “we love you”)

In his letter to Trump, Smith reportedly laid out three possible statutes Trump could be charged with violating in his attempt to overturn the election: conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States; tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant; and deprivation of rights under color of law. Should a jury decide to convict, all of these charges could result in prison time.

Meanwhile, in other Trump legal news:

A federal judge on Wednesday denied former president Donald Trump’s bid to move his hush money payments case from New York state court to a federal venue. US district judge Alvin Hellerstein’s ruling means the case will stay in Manhattan criminal court, where District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is prosecuting Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, argued that the payments were connected to his duties as president and that the case should therefore be heard in federal court. Hellerstein rejected that argument.

Trump’s legal team had wanted to move the trial to federal court in order to claim additional defenses, and had argued that Trump would not have hired Michael Cohen, whom he reimbursed for the Stormy Daniels hush money payment while in office, had he not become president. Because of that, Trump’s attorney’s claimed, his actions concerning Cohen were “connected or associated” with his official duties as POTUS. And if that sounds like a completely ridiculous argument to you, you’re not alone. “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the matter was purely a personal item of the President — a cover-up of an embarrassing event. Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President’s official acts,” Hellerstein wrote in his ruling. “Falsifying business records to hide such reimbursement, and to transform the reimbursement into a business expense for Trump and income to Cohen, likewise does not relate to a presidential duty.” Trump is scheduled to go to trial in March.

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