Trump indicted on 34 felonies linked to election interference
The Defendant: Former President Donald Trump appears in court for his arraignment on charges related to falsifying business records in a hush money investigation, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in New York. | Andrew Kelly / Pool Photo via AP

NEW YORK—Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has indicted former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, in a case that is only the opening salvo in a looming barrage of legal troubles for the former White House denizen.

The Trump indictment itself is bad news, of course, for the former White House occupant. It’s historic too as the first-ever criminal indictment of a present or former president.

The indictments virtually guarantee any trial will be concurrent with next year’s election campaign, where Trump is already running to regain the presidency. Court papers show he used the payoffs to prevent himself from losing the election in 2016.

The payoffs, according to the charges, were to cover up affairs with women, including one affair close to the time his wife had given birth and one to a doorman to bribe him into silence about the birth of a child Trump had during one of his affairs.

Bragg’s accompanying and underlying “statement of facts” shows Trump continued the payoff scheme while inhabiting the White House in 2017. One key meeting on it was held in the Oval Office.

Trump plead “not guilty,” but said little else in a Manhattan Criminal Court room so quiet that the crowd inside could faintly hear a handful of pro-Trumpites outside. After entering his pleas, Trump flew back from his former home, New York, to Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla.

There, he unleashed a rambling tirade against the judge, Bragg and his spouse, and all his political opponents in general. Trump particularly characterized Bragg in negative racial terms. Bragg is Black.

Florida won’t be a refuge, though, as Trump faces the looming cascade of other legal problems.

Trump is escorted to the courtroom by police on Tuesday. | Mary Altaffer / AP

They include a federal investigation of his incitement and direction of the Jan. 6, 2021, attempted coup and attack on the Capitol. They also include investigation of his illegal removal of top-secret documents, including several relating to nuclear weapons, to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, where security is lax at best. Speculation has been all over the map concerning his plans for those stolen documents, with his former lawyer even suggesting that Trump could not be trusted to refrain even from selling some of those materials to the highest bidder.

And the coming Trump problems include Atlanta DA Fani Willis’s probe of his outright demand to steal Georgia’s electoral votes in 2020 by having the Republican Secretary of State “find 11,780 votes”—popular votes—to give him a one-vote win there over Democratic nominee Joe Biden,

And the timing of this case, with the next moves scheduled for months from now, ensures he’ll be fighting it while also running for president, again, in 2024.

The indictment repeatedly uses phrases that indicated Trump wrote checks to his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to cover $130,000 in hush money Cohen advanced to pay off adult film actress and stripper Stormy Daniels to conceal her prior affair with Trump during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

But the real amount Cohen got was more than three times as much. And those were the payoffs that continued in 2017 after a White House talk with Trump.

The checks were drawn either on Trump’s own bank account or charged off to his company, the Trump Organization, as “legal fees.” The firm listed them as such, including in its ledgers. One check plus one receipt plus one ledger entry times 11 months of checks accounted for 33 of the 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Trump controlled the company. At a congressional hearing before he went to jail for his part in the frauds, Cohen held up a check, payable to him and notable for Trump’s black magic marker signature. It was part of the elaborate payoff scheme.

Counts are all felonies

The counts in Bragg’s indictment are felonies, punishable by up to four years in jail each because they furthered other potential crimes—which is where Bragg’s “statement of facts,” filed alongside the indictment itself, enters the picture.

The statement of facts includes White House meetings, after Trump won the presidency, with both Cohen and others involved in suppressing not just Daniels’ story, but also a $150,000 “kill fee” Trump had Cohen pay the National Enquirer to silence another woman, former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. She was ready to go public about her affair with Trump, too, but demanded payment.

At first, Trump wanted to pay McDougal, identified in the statement of data as “Woman 1,” in cash, which is less traceable. Cohen objected the statement of facts says.

“The defendant (Trump) asked, ‘So what do we got to pay for this? One fifty?’ and suggested paying by cash. When Lawyer A (Cohen) disagreed, the defendant then mentioned payment by check.” The check was paid and McDougal remained silent during the campaign.

The point of all the payoffs, the statement of facts says, was “The defendant (Trump) did not want this information to become public because he was concerned about the effect it could have on his candidacy.”

The payoff scheme got rather elaborate, with Trump’s approval, the statement of facts explains.

“Shortly after being elected president, the defendant (Trump)  arranged to reimburse Lawyer A (Cohen) for the payoff he made on the defendant’s behalf,” it begins.  “In or around Jan. 2017,” Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg and Cohen “met to discuss how Lawyer A would be reimbursed for the money he paid to ensure Woman 2’s silence.” Daniels is “Woman 2.”

Weisselberg asked Cohen “to bring a copy of a bank statement for the Essential Consultants account showing the $130,000 payment” to Daniels. Essential Consultants was a shell company Cohen set up to wash the payments.

He’s got the evidence to convict, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg says. | John Minchillo / AP

CFO Weisselberg and Cohen “agreed to a total repayment amount of $420,000. They reached that figure by adding the $130,000 payment to a $50,000 payment for another expense for which Lawyer A also claimed reimbursement, for a total of $180,000.”

Weisselberg, who turned state’s evidence in a prior Manhattan criminal case against Trump’s company for tax evasion, “then doubled that amount to $360,000 so that Lawyer A (Cohen) could characterize the payment as income on his tax returns, instead of a reimbursement, and Lawyer A would be left with $180,000 after paying approximately 50% in income taxes.

Weisselberg finally “added an additional $60,000 as a supplemental year-end bonus.  Together, these amounts totaled $420,000.” Weisselberg “memorialized these calculations in handwritten notes on the copy of  Cohen’s bank statement.

“The defendant (Trump), the TO CFO (Weisselberg), and Lawyer A (Cohen) then agreed Lawyer A would be paid the $420,000 through twelve monthly payments of $35,000 over the course of 2017.” “TO” stands for the Trump Organization, the family firm.

Sent monthly “invoices”

“Each month, Lawyer A was to send an invoice to the defendant through Trump Organization employees, falsely requesting payment of $35,000 for legal services rendered in a given month of 2017 pursuant to a retainer agreement.

“At no point did Lawyer A have a retainer agreement with the defendant or the Trump Organization.”

And that’s an element of the false business records Bragg is talking about.

“In early February 2017, the defendant and Lawyer A”—Cohen—“met in the Oval Office at the White House and confirmed this repayment arrangement.”

The publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, was in on the deal, too, agreeing to be Trump’s lookout for and to kill other anti-Trump stories. Pecker testified behind closed doors to District Attorney Bragg, corroborating many of the details, the New York Times reported.

The point of both payoffs and other details was to keep the lid on the women through the election campaign. As the statement of facts says about the $150,000 kill fee for McDougal:

“The defendant (Trump) did not want this information to become public because he was concerned about the effect it could have on his candidacy.  Thereafter, the defendant, the AMI (American Media Inc.) CEO and Lawyer A (Cohen) had a series of discussions about who should pay off Woman 1 (McDougal) to secure her silence.” American Media owned the Enquirer.

The statement of facts contains 16 pages of similar details, but it won’t be the last word in this case, Bragg said at the end. Nor will this be the last case against Trump. He faces a sea of other legal troubles, connected not to the hush money to the women, but to far more serious crimes:

The scene outside the Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday. | John Minchillo / AP
  • Jack Smith, a former federal prosecutor, is now a special counsel investigating Trump’s incitement and direction—through staffers or by himself—of the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol coup d’état attempt, invasion, and insurrection.
  • Smith is also investigating Trump’s illegal removal of top-secret and sensitive classified materials, including information about nuclear arms, out of the White House when he left and storing them, with little or no security, at Mar-a-Lago.
  • Atlanta DA Willis’s investigation of Trump’s infamous try at stealing Georgia’s electoral votes in 2020 by demanding the Republican Secretary of State “find me 11,780 votes” to give him a one-vote popular win there, and the key swing state’s electoral votes.

Top Trump aides and allies, notably consigliere Rudy Giuliani, also were in that scheme, and Giuliani lied to Georgia legislators about non-existent vote fraud. His legal license has been suspended and he faces charges there. The Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, in a testy hour-long post-election phone debate with Trump, refused his find-the-votes demand.

The DA yesterday laid out a solid criminal case against Trump with reams of evidence that serious crimes including rip-off of taxpayers were committed by Trump, including while he was president. Republicans who have been saying the case involves nothing more than minor bookkeeping violations dredged up to persecute Trump were exposed yesterday for how false they are. The charges by and the actions of the DA are now an important part of the fight to save democracy in the United States.

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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.