DA Bragg Begins Trying Trump in the Court of Public Opinion in Press Conference

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took to the microphone shortly after former President Trump’s arraignment on Tuesday to begin trying his case in the court of public opinion. Trump pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony charges levied against him.


According to Bragg, “Donald Trump was arraigned on a New York Supreme Court indictment returned by a Manhattan grand jury on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. Under New York State law, it is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud and an intent to conceal another crime.” Bragg alleged that Trump made 34 false statements “to cover up” other felony crimes in New York State,” but did not specify what those crimes are.

“For nine straight months, the defendant held documents in his hand containing this key lie that he was paying Michael Cohen for legal services performed in 2017, and he personally signed checks for payments to Michael Cohen for each of these nine months,” said Bragg.

“The evidence will show that he did so to cover up crimes relating to the 2016 election. Donald Trump, executives at the publishing company American Media Incorporated, Mr. Cohen, and others agreed in 2015 to a catch-and-kill scheme, that is, a scheme to buy and suppress negative information to help Mr. Trump’s chance of winning the election.”


To make these payments, they set up shell companies and they made yet more false statements, including for example, in AMI, American Media Incorporated, business records. One of the three people that they paid to keep quiet was a woman named Stormy Daniels. Less than two weeks before the presidential election, Michael Cohen wired $130,000 to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer. That payment was to hide damaging information from the voting public. The participants’ scheme was illegal. The scheme violated New York election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. The $130,000 wire payment exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap and the false statements in our books violated New York law.


In addition, according to Bragg, “Mr. Trump said that he was paying Mr. Cohen for fictitious legal services in 2017 to cover up an actual crime committed the prior year” and planned to “mischaracterize the repayments to Mr. Cohen” to New York state tax authorities.

Bragg characterized the case as “the bread and butter of our white-collar work.

Related: Indictment Released. Read It Here.

An NBC reporter asked the question we’re all asking: “Your predecessor took a hard look at this case and decided not to charge it. Federal prosecutors took a hard look at this case and decided not to charge it. Do you believe you have new evidence that led you to decide to charge this, or why now?”

Bragg evaded the question. “As I just mentioned,” he said, “we have had available to the office additional evidence that was not in the office’s possession prior to my time here. And as to your question about the federal, we have a distinct and strong, I would say profound, independent interest in New York State. This is the business capital of the world. We regularly do cases involving false business statements. The bedrock, in fact, the basis for business integrity and a well-functioning business marketplace is true and accurate record-keeping. That’s the charge that’s brought here. Falsifying New York state business records.”


Bragg insisted, “I’m not going to go chapter and verse into my thinking… The investigation, in my view, was not concluded into the conduct, in particular, that is the base for the charges today. Since that time, we’ve had more evidence made available to the office and opportunity to meet with additional witnesses. So as I said earlier, I’ve been doing this for 24 years, and don’t bring cases prior to a thorough and rigorous investigation. Now having done so, the case has been brought.”

The indictment did not specify how Bragg arrived at the conclusion that Trump violated campaign finance laws, and he refused to address it in the press conference.

Related: Are You Ready for the Knock on Your Door?

Fox News contributor Andy McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney, told host Neil Cavuto that “the case should be dismissed and actually should be dismissed quickly.”

“But I think this is actually worse than what we anticipated,” he added. “Because what we anticipated was that they were trying to bootstrap a misdemeanor, which, by the way, they’d have a good deal of difficulty proving if it was just a misdemeanor. But they need to show that he concealed another crime in supposedly falsifying the business records.”

“And what we’ve thought up until now is that they were — he was going to use that as an avenue to enforce federal campaign [law],” said McCarthy. “But he’s got to tell us what he’s planning to do. And more importantly, he’s got to tell Donald Trump. So I think this indictment, even before you get to the statute of limitations and whether he’s got jurisdiction to enforce federal law, I would dismiss it on its face because it fails to state a crime.”


Moreover, “It is the function of an indictment in the criminal justice system to do two things. It has to put a defendant on notice of exactly what he’s being charged with, which is to say which crimes he’s being accused of committing, and it then gives the defendant — this is the second part of the vehicle — so if he’s ever charged with that again, he can use the first indictment to plead double jeopardy.”

“So in order to make that work, you have to tell the defendant what it is that you’re accusing him of,” he continued. “And if an essential element of the offense is that you have to prove as the prosecutor beyond a reasonable doubt that he was trying to conceal another crime, you have to tell the defendant what the other crime is that he has, that he supposedly is concealing.”

“This indictment fails to do that,” McCarthy concluded. “This is the heart of the case. It’s not a felony unless he was trying to conceal another crime and if you don’t tell them what the crime is, how does that put him on notice and allow him to prepare his defense?”

That’s what happens when you conduct a witch hunt on a political opponent in a banana republic.

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