On Thursday, Donald Trump became the first former or sitting president to be indicted for criminal charges when a Manhattan grand jury approved criminal counts related to business fraud during his 2016 run for the White House.
The charges – led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg – reportedly involve Trump reimbursing his then-lawyer Michael Cohen for $130,000 after Cohen paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to keep an alleged 2006 affair with Trump secret. The Trump Organization labeled the payment “legal expenses” – an action that would make it a crime due to falsification of records, according to CNBC.
Trump likely will be arraigned Tuesday, according to various media reports. He reportedly faces 30 charges.
The charges by Bragg are controversial and have been criticized even by Trump’s critics. Attorney and author David French – a frequent Trump critic – told Ezra Klein of The New York Times that it’s noteworthy that “neither the Trump D.O.J. nor the Biden D.O.J. brought this prosecution” in federal court.
“It’s a local district attorney prosecuting a state-level misdemeanor, potentially tying that to a federal felony that was never prosecuted by the federal government,” French said. “So that’s why a lot of folks look at this – and me included – and say that’s a bit of a reach.”
Falsification of records is a misdemeanor with a two-year statute of limitations, French said. If the falsification was done to cover up a separate crime, it’s a felony with a five-year statute of limitations, French said.
“John Edwards had been prosecuted for something remarkably similar. But the prosecution failed with a hung jury,” French said. “The case was not retried.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence also criticized the indictment. Pence himself has been critical of Trump in recent weeks, particularly their differences over Jan. 6. Pence called the indictment an “outrage.”
“It’s been a long time since I was in law school,” Pence told CNN. “But I remember the old saying, ‘You can indict a ham sandwich.’ … The threshold, the burden of proof, is very low [before a grand jury].”
Like French, Pence noted, “Federal prosecutors passed on this. The Manhattan D.A. initially delayed it, passed on it.”
The Washington Post editorial board also questioned the indictment, writing Thursday, “Of the long list of alleged violations, the likely charges on which a grand jury in New York state voted to indict him are perhaps the least compelling.”
Trump released a statement saying the Democrats were “weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent.”
“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” Trump said.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Brandon Bell/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.