The 34 count indictment against Donald Trump can be pretty dry reading, even for someone eager to see Trump donning a new shade of orange, containing as it does just count after count of falsifying business records in the first degree. By elevating those charges to the first degree, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg raised the level of the indictments to felony.
The charges were not delivered as part of a “speaking indictment.” That is, the list of charges doesn’t contain any facts, witnesses, or other evidence that caused the grand jury to vote in favor of the charge. That’s no unusual, but it is disappointing for those who hoped the indictment would give some sense of new evidence, or breakthrough testimony, that would give this case more undeniable momentum. Also not featured in the indictment is any charge of conspiracy.
However, accompanying the indictments is a statement of fact that absolutely reads like precisely the kind of statement that would come with a conspiracy charge. It lays out a narrative in which Trump’s actions—both the hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and the catch-and-kill money used to silence model Karen McDougal—were directly intended to deny the public critical information in advance of the 2016 election. With the charges themselves so simply laid out, it’s going to be this statement that everyone looks into to see what’s behind the case against Trump.
Right from the first paragraph, the statement is blunt in describing what the 34 charges are about:
The defendant DONALD J. TRUMP repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.
And the next section may be the most surprising.
... the Defendant orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects. In order to execute the unlawful scheme, the participants violated election laws and made and caused false entries in the business records of various entities in New York. The participants also took steps that mischaracterized, for tax purposes, the true nature of the payments made in furtherance of the scheme.
It’s surprising because the statement involved Trump in “a scheme with others” and references “the participants.” Which is exactly the language that would be expected for a conspiracy charge. So why is that charge not there?
The next part of the statement makes the underlying very clear: Trump paid “an adult film actress” $130,000 through a shell corporation set up for the purpose of hiding the source of the payment. Then Trump falsified business records to both make and conceal the payment.
In addition to the payment to Stormy Daniels, the statement speaks to Trump's scheme to suppress statements by Karen McDougal by working with Michael Cohen and AMI Entertainment CEO David Pecker to convince McDougal to sell her story to National Enquirer, then simply burying it.
During and in furtherance of his candidacy for President, the Defendant and others agreed to identify and suppress negative stories about him. Two parties to this agreement have admitted to committing illegal conduct in connection with the scheme. In August 2018, Lawyer A pleaded guilty to two federal crimes involving illegal campaign contributions, and subsequently served time in prison. In addition, in August 2018, American Media, Inc. (“AMI”), a media company that owned and published magazines and supermarket tabloids including the National Enquirer, admitted in a non-prosecution agreement that it made a payment to a source of a story to ensure that the source “did not publicize damaging allegations” about the Defendant “before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election.”
Again, what’s described here is a conspiracy, and what New York election law makes illegal is a conspiracy to defraud the voting public, but the charges don’t include conspiracy. Why?
In any case, the statement of facts about the case makes clear that the charges are directly connected to these two actions: the hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels, the catch-and-kill scheme to silence Karen McDougal. Everything else—a chain of 34 false records—proceeds from this. The statement of facts lays out the behavior of Trump in these events more clearly than in any previous report.
One other thing that should be mentioned, and that’s the footnote on the statement.
This Statement of Facts contains certain of the information that is relevant to the events described herein, and does not contain all facts relevant to the charged conduct.
Our planned Ukraine episode will have to wait, as Donald Trump is being arraigned in New York City for his role in falsifying records to hide hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. This is the first of a potential slew of indictments coming Trump’s way, and we are here for a celebration of karmic justice—and to talk about what happens to the Republican Party after this.