The Strangest of All Bedfellows

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Speculation on whether or when Donald Trump will be indicted for making hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels has been dominating the political news.  One of the most fascinating aspects of the case is how Trump and his antagonist, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, are, in a perverse way, actually helping each other out.  Trump is able to play on his supporters’ sympathy to strengthen his position as a presidential candidate while Bragg is able to strengthen his progressive reputation as well.

Trump’s repeated predictions of an impending indictment have not yet been born out.  Whether he’ll be indicted this upcoming week remains to be seen.

Also remaining to be seen are the charges, if any, Bragg plans to bring, and how he thinks he can prove them.  Critics of his efforts say that whatever case he might bring may be too weak to actually secure an indictment, let alone a conviction.

At issue is whether Trump’s 2016 hush money payment of $133,00 to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had had an affair with Trump in 2006 (and which he denies) is prosecutable.  It’s not in dispute that Trump’s lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen gave Daniels the money, and that Trump subsequently reimbursed Cohen.  But what crime was actually committed?

In Trump Organization financial reports, Trump reported his payment as a “business expense.”  Bragg rightly claims Trump thereby filed a false financial report.  But analysists writing in the Wall Street Journal and the National Review say that Trump’s misreporting was only a misdemeanor under New York State law, for which the statute of limitations expired years ago.  So how can Trump be prosecuted now?

Bragg argues that since the hush money was paid in late October of 2016, just before that year’s presidential election, the payment must have been an illegal campaign expenditure.  But there is not yet any evidence that Trump took the money out of any campaign treasury.  And even if he did so, the history of criminal prosecutions of candidates for violating federal campaign finance laws is short and discouraging to would-be prosecutors:  For example, John Edwards, the Democrats’ 2004 vice presidential nominee, was charged by federal prosecutors with using campaign funds to cover up his extra-marital affair with a campaign aid with whom he fathered a child even though the Federal Election Commission, which normally enforces campaign finance laws, declined to pursue the case itself.  A jury acquitted Edwards on one charge and proved unable to reach an agreement on the five other charges.  The federal government then dropped the case altogether.

So how are Trump and Bragg both benefitting?

The investigation of Trump feeds into his narrative of political persecution at the hands of the Democrats, and especially the progressive Democrats like Alvin Bragg.  He has used his oft-repeated predictions of imminent arrest (with authorities marching him away in handcuffs!) to solicit more campaign contributions and otherwise solidify and strengthen his support within the GOP.  Trump continues to command the approval of about 70% of Republicans but his active supporters probably constitute about half of those who approve his past presidency.  Yet this 35%, whose determination to stand by him no matter what may be strengthened by the threat of indictment, may well be enough to help him secure the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, especially if numerous opponents split the remainder of the Republican primary vote.  After all, that’s what happened in 2016.

But Bragg, too, may well be benefitting.  His actions, even if they fail to secure a conviction or even an indictment, may be shoring up his strength among progressives.  Last year, when it appeared that Bragg might not indict Trump for anything, several members of his staff resigned in protest.  But now that an indictment is once again a possibility, Bragg can burnish his progressive credentials, especially now that Trump’s supporters in the House of Representatives are demanding that Bragg testifies before their Republican-dominated committees.  Moreover, the Trump-Bragg drama is diverting attention away from the issue of whether Bragg’s progressive approach to criminal prosecution is contributing to New York City’s crime wave.

It’s been said that “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Such seems to be the case here.  And it’s difficult to think of any two stranger bedfellows than Donald Trump and Alvin Bragg.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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