In 2018, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) broke a novel headline that would follow former President Donald Trump for the next five years.
WSJ reported a story that adult film star Stormy Daniels, otherwise known as Stephanie Clifford, had been waiting to publish since Trump’s campaign started. The brunt of the story was that Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels had a one-time affair back in 2006 when she met Trump at a golf event. In 2011, Daniels tried to sell her story, but Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen
threatened her with a lawsuit.
In 2016, a month before the national election, a video circulated the internet with disastrous effect. Trump had been bragging on tape about groping women, and news magazines started to gain interest in the stories that women had about their experience with the would-be president.
Daniels contacted the National Enquirer to run her story, but instead Cohen worked out a deal — $130,000 in order for her to sign a non-disclosure agreement. He used his personal credit to make the payment and was reimbursed with $420,000 over the next several months by the Trump organization. The Trump campaign was concerned that the story would have tanked his chances of being elected — small percentages matter in presidential races — and the “hush money” was their solution.
The payment in and of itself is not illegal. However, the ethical question at play was whether the payments broke campaign finance violations. The money reimbursed to Michael Cohen was recorded as “legal expenses” and the money paid to Daniels was not recorded as a campaign contribution. Prosecutors argued that the money was used to protect his image and therefore, had to be recorded. The money also exceeded the amount that could be made as a campaign donation.
These charges came to fruition in August 2018, when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to criminal charges in a Manhattan federal court. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
Investigation into the Trump organization continued, and in December 2022, the organization was found guilty of tax fraud. Allen Weisselberg, the former Chief Financial Officer for the Trump organization, was sentenced to 5 months of prison time in a Manhattan state court.
In the beginning of 2023, Alvin Bragg, the district attorney leading the investigation, started presenting evidence about Trump’s role in the 2016 payments to a grand jury. Trump vehemently denied his involvement and continues to do so as of today.
On March 30, Donald Trump was officially indicted and as of Apr. 4, the former president has been charged with 34 felony counts in the first degree. The basis of the charges imply that Trump falsified business records to conceal payments made during his campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
The indictment was historical in nature because it was unprecedented. Trump is the first former United States President to face criminal charges ever.
The former President posted his outrage on his social media platform, Truth Social. He called for protests and for his supporters to take their nation back and claimed that only those who hate America would attempt to criminally charge him.
Former President Donald Trump spoke to a crowd at the Mar-a-Lago following his sentencing, stating that he was disappointed in America and that the case was a ploy to interfere with the 2024 elections.
Trump is still planning to run for and regain his position as President in the 2024 presidential candidate race.
The Technique had the opportunity to interview Mark Zachary Taylor, a professor for the School of Public Policy at the Institute, to discuss the indictment and the effects the criminal charges would have on the 2024 elections.
Taylor specializes in Science and Technology (S&T) politics, the American presidency and comparative politics. He spoke from a professional political standpoint and provided the Technique with his expert prediction as to what the future could hold for the former president.
Taylor mentioned that the indictment and proceeding court case might not change many minds when it comes to the upcoming presidential race. The former president was notorious for his out-of-pocket comments, and most people will not necessarily think differently about this case. Taylor explained that Republicans who supported Trump will not suddenly sway their opinions and Democrats who opposed Trump will not suddenly become avid supporters. When asked what the indictment would affect, Taylor mentioned that the real question was how the indictment would impact the high-money, high-talent Republicans.
“Running for elections is very expensive, and Trump has been loath to spend his own money, so he has to raise a lot of money. That requires a lot of donors and a lot of well-networked, well-respected fundraiser folks who would go out and raise that money. They have careers and reputations on the line and they may not be willing to gamble that on Trump anymore, given how he let some of his allies hang out to dry,” Taylor said.
Taylor also stated that, whether or not everything said about Trump is true, his reputation may not bode well enough for him to get all the support he needs. The Manhattan grand jury case is not the only indictment that is being pursued. There have also been investigations about Trump’s alleged efforts to interfere with the election process in Georgia. These pressing indictments could together cause a effect on his chances at being president in 2024.
This does not necessarily mean that the former president is the only president who has been “loose with the law,” Taylor said.
When asked about Trump’s indictment being historical news, Taylor mentioned that presidents such as Richard Nixon, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Lyndon B. Johnson all had — in retrospect — bent campaign laws in some form in the past.
“These prosecutions should have been happening decades ago,” Taylor said.
The next hearing is set to take place in December and the general public can expect a drawn-out trial. Taylor closed by mentioning that he recommends students to follow the news to stay informed on the indictment, arraignment, upcoming trials and the presidential race to make their own decisions.