Trump in court: Unfolding before our eyes like any other mob trial
Chicago mobster Al Capone. Trump is engaging, in his trial, in numerous practices taken right from the pages of stories about Capone and many other well-known mobsters. Among the charges Trump faces are seven violations of a gag order and jury tampering, a favored practice of Capone and his pals. | AP

NEW YORK—Shakedowns, witness intimidation jury tampering, and prosecutorial fines are all there and they are barely getting underway. By Tuesday, the “Orange Man,” if he keeps it up, could be wearing an orange jumpsuit.

If you didn’t know all these were among the latest developments in the Donald Trump hush money cover-up and election interference trial in Manhattan, you’d think you were watching a trial of a Mob capo instead.

All this trial lacks, as a matter of fact, is a pretrial FBI raid, just like the one that rounded up 60 top mobsters in upstate Apalachin, N.Y., in November 1957. And, now that we think of it, this trial lacks a tax evasion conviction, too. That’s how the feds finally convicted Al Capone in 1931 and sent him to Alcatraz the next year.

Oh, wait, there is a G-man raid and shady tax finagling involving Trump—just that they preceded other Trump trials.

The latest developments came in Trump’s trial for paying former stripper Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016 to shut up about her prior affair with Trump during his presidential campaign that year—and channeling the check to her through then-lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen. Trump charged it off as “legal expenses” for his family real estate conglomerate, the Trump Organization.

All that violated New York state campaign finance laws, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s 34-count felony indictment says.

Daniels is the “moll” in the case. Trump had an affair with her, cheating on his spouse, Melania, whom he had recently married. To cover up his affair with Daniels, and another with former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, Trump paid hush money—and the check to Daniels prompted this trial.

The check to McDougal was channeled to her as a “kill fee” so the National Enquirer wouldn’t publish her tale, also during the 2016 election campaign.

The shakedowns are in a letter from Trump’s campaign to other Republican candidates, down the ticket, who invoke his name as they seek office this year. If they do so, the letter says, they have to kick back 5% of what they raise to the joint Trump-Republican National Committee campaign committee.

“Beginning tomorrow, we ask that all candidates and committees who choose to use President Trump’s name, image, and likeness split a minimum of 5% of all fundraising solicitations to Trump National Committee JFC (joint finance committee),” the April 15 letter says. “This includes but is not limited to sending to the house file, prospecting vendors, and advertising.

“Any split that is higher than 5% will be seen favorably by the RNC and President Trump’s campaign and is routinely reported to the highest levels of leadership within both organizations.” “Seen favorably” is otherwise known as a quid pro quo. Shades of Watergate, where campaign finance chair Maurice Stans served as Richard Nixon’s bag man to business in exchange for favorable future federal largesse.

And what happens if the down-ballot hopefuls don’t play along? Here’s the letter’s answer: “Any vendor whose clients ignore the guidelines mentioned above” i.e. the kickbacks and other restrictions the letter lists, “will be held responsible for their clients’ actions.

“Repeated violations will result in the suspension of business relationships between the vendor and Trump National Committee JFC. This includes list rental agreements.” What does that sound like?

What the Trump letter, on campaign letterhead, doesn’t say, of course, is that Trump has used millions of donated campaign dollars to pay his legal fees, including the cash shelled out to his revolving door of lawyers in the hush money cover-up case.

Witnesses intimidated

Then there are the intimidated witnesses, on Trump’s Truth Social media site. He repeatedly denigrates the potential witnesses, especially former lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen, the man Trump used to channel the checks to Daniels. Cohen has pled guilty to various crimes, including lying to Congress about the checks and already served jail time.

But Trump’s continuing Truth Social defamation draws the ire of Bragg’s prosecutors. They want State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan to fine Trump $1000 per violation—and there were seven Trump violations, on his social media, on April 18 alone. The prosecutors also want the judge to hold Trump in contempt of court for violating Justice Merchan’s own gag order.

Contempt of court convictions can get you sent to jail, but Justice Merchan hasn’t threatened that, yet.

Jury tampering? That’s thanks to Trump’s propaganda organ, aka Fox “News.” Fox host Jesse Watters said on the air: “They are catching undercover Liberal Activists lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury.” Watters, like Trump, had no proof of his charge.

Then Watters went on to reveal personal details about one juror who had been seated, an oncology nurse. When her neighbors asked her about the service, she got upset, called the courthouse in the morning, and asked to be removed. The justice agreed.

Justice Merchan also told the media covering the trial to not publish information that could reveal the identities of jurors, given the historic fact that this is the first-ever criminal trial of a former president. “There’s a reason this is an anonymous jury,” he said.

Justice Merchan’s gag order also bars Trump from “making or directing others to make public statements about any prospective juror or any juror in this criminal proceeding.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover Trump’s mouthpiece, Fox “News.”

A second juror, Herson Cabreras, got tossed off the panel when prosecutors challenged his ability to be fair and follow the facts. They discovered that 33 years ago, as a volunteer for New York Democratic politician—and later Mayor—David Dinkins, Cabreras had confiscated yard signs from supporters of Dinkins’s Republican foe.

That leaves the other developments—the FBI raid and the tax evasion—connected to other Trump trials.

The FBI raid led to Trump’s trial, now proceeding slowly in federal court in southern Florida before Trump-named Judge Aileen Cannon. The G-men had to raid Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion in Palm Beach to recover purloined secret documents there. Trump later showed those secrets, including a Pentagon plan to invade Iran and numbers of nukes on U.S. submarines, to unauthorized, un-cleared people, including an Australian business magnate.

The tax evasion was in the other Trump trial just concluded in Manhattan. Trump, his family, and his firm evaded taxes by lying about the values of his real estate. He was forced to post a $175 million bond while appealing the guilty verdict which New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James proved against him, his sons, and his firm, and the original fine of almost triple that sum, including damages and interest, payable to the state.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.