At the risk of alienating everyone on the planet, I read the full Trump indictment and have mixed thoughts.
When the first reports came down, I thought it sounded weak. After reading it, plus the supporting document everyone seems to be ignoring, I think it’s stronger than many pundits are claiming (assuming the evidence to prove it is convincing, always an “if”).
One thing the supporting document does (again, if the evidence is there to prove it) is to preempt an argument that the payment to Stormy Daniels wasn’t made for campaign purposes, but to keep the assignation secret from Melania, which is not a crime.
But the supporting document claims that Trump tried to stall paying Stormy Daniels until after the election, at which point he’d have withdrawn from the deal, because it no longer mattered. If true, that means it had nothing to do with Melania, because hiding it from her would have been just as important after the election, as before. (It would be really ironic if Trump’s attempt to cheap out on Stormy Daniels is what ultimately undoes him, given his his history of underpaying subcontractors in business settings. Karma, as they say…)
Secondly, the indictment seeks to paint a larger conspiracy than simply hushing up Stormy Daniels. There is also Karen McDougal, the Playboy model (who was cheaped out on and apparently never paid), and a bellboy who alleged that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock. The last of these apparently wasn’t true, but the trio reflect an overarching process that can be painted as a conspiracy, the moment it touches on an otherwise illegal activity.
The underlying illegal activity was widely seen, prior to today, as a federal campaign financing violation, in which Trump disguised the hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels as attorney fees to his fixer, Michael Cohen. That way of framing the case produces two major legal problems: (1) This is a state case in New York, for which federal campaign financing violations might or might not be relevant; and (2) federal campaign financing law is hard for the average person to understand.
The supporting document indicated that the prosecution has at least two ways of getting around that problem. First, they don’t need to rely on Federal law; New York has its own campaign financing laws.
But potentially more importantly, in the effort to hide the payments, Trump and his associates appear to have falsified tax records. This is a lot easier to follow for anyone who’s ever paid income taxes.
Cohen paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket (plus $50,000 to someone else for a purpose not disclosed in the current documents.) That’s $180,000 total. But if Trump and his associates simply paid him $180,000, and called it attorney’s fees, he be out of pocket for federal and state taxes on that $180,000—a big ask from a friend. So instead of $180,000, they gave him $360,000 (assuming he’d pay about $180,000 in taxes) plus a $60,000 bonus, then spread it across 12 months as payments on a non-existent annual retainer of $35,000 a month.
If this can be proven, there’s a second irony even larger than the first: Trump could go down for tax fraud for arranging for Cohen to declare TOO MUCH income.
If that happens, it’s got to be a first.