While Donald Trump launches verbal attacks against the prosecutor and judge overseeing his criminal charges in connection with hush money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, an attorney for the former US president has said his main focus is on legal maneuvers aiming to get the case Refuse long before a trial jury is ever seated.
Jim Trusty appeared on Sunday on ABC’s This Week and argued that “there’s a lot to play with” when examining whether New York state prosecutors waited too long to secure an indictment against Trump and if the ex-president intended to commit any crimes with the payments at the center of the case.
The payments were made at the height of the 2016 White House race which Trump won, and Trusty also reiterated questions that his side had previously asked about whether the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, should be able to apply “federal election law into a New York case.”
“The motions to dismiss have to be a priority because they amputate this miscarriage of justice early on,” Trusty said to show host Jonathan Karl. “And I think you’ll see some very robust motions.”
In his remarks to Karl, Trusty also doubled down on questions already floated by his side about whether Trump could get a fair trial in Manhattan. The New York City borough voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Democrat who defeated Trusty’s client in the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden, after all.
However, even though Trusty said Manhattan is “a real stronghold of liberalism, of activism, and that infects the whole process”, he suggested pre-trial dismissal motions citing statutes of limitation and an alleged lack of criminal intent is almost certain to come before one that might seek a change of trial venue.
A state grand jury in Manhattan on 30 March handed up 34 felony charges of falsifying business records to cover up $130,000 in payments meant to keep Daniels quiet about claims of an extramarital sexual encounter in what Bragg’s office maintains was a conspiracy to influence the race Trump won over Hillary Clinton. Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges on Tuesday.
The Daniels payments have already led to one conviction, in federal court: that of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen, in that case, said he paid Daniels at the behest of Trump and was reimbursed by the then president during his time in the Oval Office. Prosecutors alleged that those payments were falsely classified as legal expenses as part of a conspiracy for Trump to get around state and federal election laws or to deceive tax authorities.
Cohen pleaded guilty to federal crimes stemming from the hush money payments, resulting in a three-year prison sentence as well as the loss of his law license.
Trusty on Sunday called Cohen “a convicted warrior with an ax to grind” but said it would be ineffective to attack his credibility in a motion at this stage. He also suggested that Trump’s political rhetoric about Bragg being a “failed district attorney” and a “criminal” and about the judge to whom the case was allotted, Juan Merchan, being “a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife” was unlikely to be reflected in some of his side’s upcoming legalese.
“It was pointing [out] that they have a bias, that they have a political interest that is contrary to President Trump,” Trusty said about comments that prompted Merchan to issue a warning against any statements that were “likely to incite violence or civil unrest”.
Trusty added: “There’s kind of a political lane and a legal lane. I’m in the legal lane. I’m not going to worry too much or be able to control the politics of the moment.”
While Trusty didn’t elaborate on his statute of limitation mention, New York law gave prosecutors five years to charge felony falsification of business records. The last alleged false record in the indictment is from December 2017, more than five years before Bragg obtained the charges against Trump.
It’s unclear how Bragg’s office might try to defend against such a line of attack. But in other settings, lawyers confronted with a motion to dismiss based on a statute of limitation often argue that steps taken to conceal the alleged wrongdoing should result in prolonging – if not entirely suspending – any relevant charging or filing deadlines.
Meanwhile, Trusty’s comment about applying “federal election law into a New York case” seemed to refer to Bragg’s decision to indict the former president over payments during a federal election although the US justice department prosecutors who secured Cohen’s conviction passed on charging Trump. The justice department’s decision against charging Trump does not amount to a finding of innocence for the former president, though it remains to be seen whether Bragg’s office has enough evidence to eventually secure a conviction.
Trump’s next court date in the case that made him the first former US president to be criminally charged is December 4th. But Trusty said the public should not be surprised if some of the possible motions that he discussed were filed well ahead of that date.
If Trump were to eventually be found guilty as accused, it is possible that he would face up to four years in prison, the director of the Center for Ethics and the Rule of Law at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center recently told the resource website factcheck.org. Yet it is also possible that Trump would not be at risk for anything more than probation, fines and community service because he was charged as a first-time offender, Columbia University law school professor John C Coffee Jr. told factcheck.org.
Despite the case in Merchan’s court, Trump is widely considered to be the frontrunner to land the Republican presidential nomination for the 2024 election.