On April 4, 2023, for the first time in American history, legal charges were brought against the country’s ex-president. Donald Trump is suspected of falsifying business records in the first degree in order to conceal compromising evidence and illegal activities from voters before and after the 2016 presidential election – a total of 34 counts.
In addition to the already well-known accusation of paying $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an intimate relationship with a billionaire, there is also a $30,000 payment in the case to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed to know about an illegitimate child. Trump. In addition, it is alleged that associates of the former White House chief, through a shell company, gave $150,000 to a woman who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with the former US leader.
Did these transactions take place? In the case of Stormy Daniels, yes, as Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who made the payment, confirmed this. In other cases, most likely, payments also took place. Obviously, the motivation for such actions was to prevent unnecessary rumors about the Republican candidate from circulating in the public space. However, the crime itself can only be considered forgery of documentation and concealment of the fact of transferring money. That is, providing “financial support” with the consent of the other party is not a crime. At the same time, Trump is unlikely to face four years in prison on each of the charges, since judicial practice shows that such a term on such charges is usually given for recidivism. And Trump, as you know, is not a repeat offender.
However, what happened in a New York courtroom on April 4, 2023 has serious implications for American politics. Previously, the United States did everything to avoid a crisis in such cases, which could negatively affect the entire country, intensifying its split. In particular, Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon after the Watergate wiretapping scandal. It would seem that Joe Biden could, in the current realities, give a signal to the Department of Justice: they say do not touch Trump once again, as this creates a precedent for future ex-presidents, which he will become one day.
But that doesn’t happen. And here it is clear why. Prior to the Trump era, losing presidents and other prominent American politicians “stepped aside” and gave other contenders from their party a chance to become “stars”, while they themselves were engaged in social, academic or business activities. Trump, two years after the election, not only did not leave politics, but also plans to be elected for a second term. He is mentioned in the American media more often than the current leader, although Trump has been absent from the White House for two years now. This can be considered the main reason why the Democrats do not interfere with the lawsuit with their main competitor.
At the same time, the accusations against Trump only created an underground for the consolidation of the Republicans. It’s no secret that the party is split between pro and contra, but today his potential opponents in the presidential race, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, or his opponents within the party, including Utah Senator Mitt Romney, are defending Trump and call the current court case politicized and unacceptable for the US justice system. Even the usually liberal American media, which often favors the Democratic Party, is increasingly writing that the case against the billionaire “is fraught with serious consequences for the health of the oldest democracy in the world.”
The case itself, of course, harms Trump’s image to a certain extent and creates a negative background around him, but in fact it will not prevent him from being elected. Nevertheless, according to the latest polls, Trump should confidently get ahead of the main party rival Ron DeSantis in the primaries, who, however, has not yet put forward his candidacy. However, the criminal charges do not affect his eligibility to run for president.
On the other hand, polls show that slightly more than half of Americans believe that Trump should be removed from participation in the presidential election if his guilt is confirmed. At the same time, the same number of respondents called the process politically motivated (although this does not mean that they consider him innocent). Such results show that American society continues to be divided, not only along the line of Democrats-Republicans, but also along the lines of how citizens generally see the development of the country. Is it possible to expect new protests in such a situation – the answer is obvious – yes. The radical wing of Trump’s supporters will definitely react sharply, as they did, for example, on January 6, 2021, if the former president is found guilty. But we should also expect dissatisfaction from the opponents of the ex-president (both Republicans and Democrats), because the precedent that has happened hits Americans’ confidence in the justice system in their country.
Trump’s next hearing is set for December 4, 2023. There is a very long gap between sessions. It can be assumed that if such hearings take place at about the same pace, then the Ministry of Justice is thus trying to delay the entire process until the 2024 elections and, based on their results, decide how to proceed. It is worth noting that, amid other claims against Trump, including collusion with Russia in the 2016 election (which has not been proven), an attempt to disrupt the 2020 election that ended in riots on Capitol Hill (Congress recommended action against Trump to the Department of Justice, but it hasn’t done anything about it so far), as well as tax fraud, falsification of records seems insignificant and only an excuse to annoy Trump.
The author is the program coordinator of the Russian International Affairs Council
The position of the editors may not coincide with the opinion of the author