Levin Report: Is Donald Trump Going to Prison? And Answers to Every Other Burning Question About His Looming Indictment
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By now you’ve likely heard the news that there’s a good chance Donald Trump will be indicted, possibly as early as this week, for paying porn star Stormy Daniels six figures’ worth of hush money in 2016 to keep quiet about their alleged affair. Obviously, it would be a very big deal if criminal charges actually materialized, given that (1) no president in US history has ever been charged with a crime and (2) at this point, most people had lost all hope that Trump would ever be held accountable for anything. Given the magnitude of all this, you presumably have roughly 130,000 questions—about how we got here, about what happens next, about whether or not Trump is going to prison, etc.—swirling in your head. Luckily, we’ve got answers.
What would the exact charges against Trump be?
That won’t be clear until the (possible but likely!) indictment is filed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but there have been some hints over the last few months. Here’s The New York Times:
The New York Times has reported that the case may include a potential charge of falsifying business records under Article 175 of the New York Penal Law…. To prove that Mr. Trump committed that offense, prosecutors would seemingly need evidence showing that he had knowingly caused subordinates to make a false entry in his company’s records “with intent to defraud.” For the action to be a felony rather than a misdemeanor, prosecutors would also need to show that Mr. Trump falsified the business records with the intention of committing, aiding, or concealing a second crime.
That second crime, according to the Times, could be campaign-finance violations, which, as previously reported, could get complicated between state and federal jurisdictions, given that presidential elections are under federal law, and the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, deals with state laws. As the paper of record notes, it’s possible that “Mr. Bragg has obtained nonpublic evidence of some other intended offense, like if there was any initial intention to deduct the payments as a business expense on state tax returns.”
Is Trump facing prison time?
Indeed: up to four years for a conviction on a felony bookkeeping charge, and more if Bragg hits him with multiple offenses.
How exactly will this all play out if Trump is indicted? Like, will he be arrested? Handcuffed? Perp-walked?
According to the Times, though “it is standard for defendants arrested on felony charges to be handcuffed, it is unclear whether they will make an exception for Mr. Trump because of his status.” (Trump, who has claimed an indictment would help his chances of winning the 2024 election, might want an elaborate perp walk involving handcuffs, to get his supporters all riled up on his behalf.) Following an arraignment, Trump “would likely be released on his own recognizance because an indictment likely would contain only nonviolent felony charges; under New York law, prosecutors cannot request bail in most such cases.”
For this to play out, Trump, who now lives in Florida, would have to come to New York to face the charges. In the event the former guy decides to ignore the indictment and stay put at Mar-a-Lago, things could get wild. Again, the Times:
In the unlikely event that the former president refuses to surrender, he would put Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, his leading but undeclared rival for the Republican nomination, in an awkward political position. Under law, the role of Mr. DeSantis would be essentially ministerial and he would have few legal options other than approving an extradition request from New York. Still, if New York prosecutors sought Mr. Trump’s extradition, Mr. DeSantis would face an unenviable dilemma. He would be compelled to choose between authorizing an arrest warrant for Mr. Trump and inflaming his base, or attempting in some way to aide his Republican rival, and possibly face legal action as a result.
For his part, DeSantis had this to say Monday:
Let’s back up—how did we get here?
Okay, so, to take it way back: According to Daniels, she was introduced to Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006; she’s said he asked her to dinner, and instead of meeting him at, y’know, a restaurant, she met him in his hotel suite. Speaking to CBS News in March 2018, Daniels told Anderson Cooper that Trump kicked off the conversation by “just talking about himself.” Not surprisingly, she said he showed her a magazine with his picture on the cover. It was with that magazine, Daniels told Cooper, that she spanked Trump’s ass. Later, he apparently very creepily told her, “you remind me of my daughter,” and suggested she be a contestant on The Apprentice. After that, according to Daniels, they had dinner in his room, and after that, they had sex.
Daniels has said they kept in touch and met in person one more time, but only ever had sex once. She has described Trump’s nether regions as being shaped “like a toadstool.“
According to former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham’s memoir, Trump called her from Air Force One to insist his penis was neither toadstool-shaped nor small.
Okay, please fast-forward!
In January 2018, approximately one year after Donald Trump had taken office, TheWall Street Journal revealed that in October 2016, Michael Cohen, the then lawyer for then presidential candidate Trump, had paid porn star Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, $130,000 to prevent her from going public about them allegedly sleeping together. While American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, had previously had an agreement in place to be on the lookout for unflattering stories about Trump in order to kill them— and had indeed paid Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to suppress her story about an alleged Trump affair, as The Wall Street Journal reported in 2016—when the Daniels situation came up, then AMI chief David Pecker told Cohen that Team Trump would have to deal with Daniels themselves.
The Trump Organization subsequently reimbursed Cohen over the course of Trump’s first year as president, with the leader of the free world signing checks about every month in between official government business. In previous congressional testimony, Cohen told lawmakers that he was paid back over many months, instead of in one lump sum, “in order to hide what the payment was,” explaining it was meant to “look like a retainer.” Cohen has also flatly stated he arranged the hush money payoff at Trump’s direction.
This might be a dumb question but…why can’t you pay whomever you want to not tell people you had an affair together?
The problem appears to stem from the fact that Trump was running for office at the time, and the hush money payment may have violated campaign-finance laws, since it was clearly made to help Trump’s chance of winning the election, which Daniels coming forward likely would have hurt. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to engaging in campaign-finance violations (among other charges), and was sentenced to three years in prison.
But wait, wasn’t there talk of charging Trump with all this a while back and it never happened?
That’s correct: Federal prosecutors in New York investigated Trump’s role in the hush money deal, but closed their probe in July 2019 without an indictment, in part, per Vox, “because Trump was the sitting president and per Justice Department policy he could not be indicted.”
As Vox also notes:
As Trump was about to leave office in 2021…Southern District of New York prosecutors revisited the case, discussing whether they should reopen it when he no longer had presidential immunity. According to CNN legal analyst Elie Honig’s recent book Untouchable, prosecutors were split on the strength of the case. “Some believed the evidence was more than enough to charge in an ordinary case, while others thought it was still a close call, though still chargeable,” Honig writes, continuing, “Even if the evidence was sufficient to support a charge, it also wasn’t a slam-dunk case in the majority view.” He adds that some on the team believed the hush money scheme was “serious, but not the end of the world,” and that it seemed “somehow trivial and outdated” compared to his later acts like trying to overturn Joe Biden’s election win. So ultimately, SDNY decided to let it lie.
Later, Manhattan district attorney Cy Vance began investigating Trump, but ultimately chose to focus not on the Daniels payment, but the broader business practices of the Trump Organization, charging Trump’s family business with a cornucopia of crimes, 17 of which it was found guilty of in December.
Vance left office in December 2021. A short time after that, his successor, Alvin Bragg, reportedly indicated to prosecutors that he had doubts about taking a case against Trump, personally, to court.
Last November, The New York Times reported that Bragg had refocused the criminal investigation into Trump—but not over the crimes the Trump Organization would be found guilty of just a month later. Instead, prosecutors were returning to the matter that originally sparked their investigation into Trump a number of years back: the hush money payment. In January, the Times reported that the DA’s office had begun presenting evidence to a grand jury.
Who spoke to the grand jury?
A whole bunch of people, including but not limited to former AMI publisher Pecker, longtime Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, and, crucially, Michael Cohen. Trump himself was invited to appear before the grand jury but declined. Stormy Daniels met with prosecutors in mid-March.
And we’re assuming Trump has never actually admitted to the hush money deal, right?
In fact, he has! Even more hilariously, he literally wrote, on Twitter, of the NDA they made Daniels sign after paying her off: “These agreements are very common among celebrities and people of wealth.”
What has Trump more broadly said about all of this?
Not surprisingly, Trump has, on numerous occasions, dubbed the investigation into the hush money payment a “witch hunt,” which is how he describes anything he doesn’t like, especially if it concerns the possibility that he will receive the same treatment as everyone else in the eyes of the law.
He has also denied having an affair with Daniels (with McDougal as well), despite admitting to the hush money payment in Daniels’s case.
When might the indictment happen?
According to numerous reports, it could happen as early as this week. Steel barricades have been placed outside Manhattan criminal court, and law enforcement agencies have reportedly held meetings to discuss “security, staffing, and contingency plans in the event of any protests.” On Saturday, according to a copy of an email obtained by Politico, Bragg told his employees: “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.”
Are Republicans losing their minds?
Of course. Kevin McCarthy tweeted, “Here we go again—an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump. I’m directing relevant committees to immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions.” Ted Cruz wrote, “The Trump indictment is garbage.” Marjorie Taylor Greene insisted that “Every single Republican should go scorched earth.”
Has Trump suggested his supporters should engage in violence on his behalf, à la January 6?
In his typical Trumpian way, yes. Over the weekend, he wrote on Truth Social that people must “PROTEST” and “TAKE OUR NATION BACK,” in response to what he predicted would be a Tuesday arrest. While he did not literally call for violence, his language was deeply reminiscent of him telling his supporters to “fight like hell” on January 6, shortly before they stormed the US Capitol.
Will this whole thing just “blow over” if Trump ignores the indictment?
No, contrary to what one GOP congresswoman has been telling people, this is not how the law works.
House GOP requests Manhattan DA’s testimony as they seek to discredit investigation into Trump (CNN)
Four Convicted of Obstruction on Jan. 6 in Final Oath Keepers Trial (NYT)
Trump’s Lawyers Seemed Pretty Concerned He’s Going to be Indicted In Georgia Too (VF)
Florida Is Reportedly Sending Undercover Agents to Surveil Drag Shows (Jezebel)
Earth to Hit Critical Warming Threshold by Early 2030s, Climate Panel Says (NYT)
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon Leading Efforts to Craft New First Republic Bank Rescue Plan (WSJ)
Biden issues his first veto (CNN)
Trump isn’t giving up on Fox News even after its bigwigs privately trashed him (NBC News)
Rupert Murdoch is engaged for the 5th time at the age of 92 (VF)
Man, 52, Arrested for “Spring Break Mistake” (TSG)
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