Alvin Bragg proves skeptics wrong: Trump’s 34-count felony indictment is serious business

To the surprise of absolutely no one, from the moment Donald Trump was indicted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — really, long before that moment — Republican politicians were declaring Trump is innocent. The emptiness of the posturing was built in. It’s not just that Republicans don’t believe their talking points — no one does. 

Trump’s selling point to the GOP base has long been his criminality. The MAGA base was compelled by the idea that only a true villain could get them what they want because he would flout all rules and laws in his pursuit of their authoritarian goals. So to claim Trump is “innocent” is not to deny that he committed a crime, so much as it is to assert that he should be above the law. 

What has been disappointing is how many in the mainstream media took this unapologetic bad faith seriously. Without seeing what was actually in the charging documents, supposedly serious people went along with the idea that this was a minor case not worth prosecuting. 

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“Yet of the long list of alleged violations, the likely charges on which a grand jury in New York state voted to indict him are perhaps the least compelling,” harumphed the editorial board at the Washington Post. 

“How could something so big — the first criminal indictment of an American president — seem so small?” griped former federal prosecutor Ankush Khardori, in a New York Times editorial that also ended up strongly implying that former presidents should simply be above the law. 

This line of argument isn’t just ill-informed, but really should be illegitimate. “I’ve done worse” is not an excuse to get away with crimes, which is why the law will usually charge someone who kidnaps and murders someone with both crimes. But these takes are especially embarrassing in light of the unsealed indictment. Once detailed, the seriousness of the charges feels more obvious, especially when reminded that Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, already did a stint in prison for this. 

“I’ve done worse” is not an excuse to get away with crimes.

As expected, the focus is on how Trump falsified business documents, but as the indictment repeatedly states, “with intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime.” The charging document also destroys another pro-Trump talking point, that this relates to time “before” he was president. Every single alleged crime happened after Trump took office. The statement of facts also indicates there are tax fraud considerations. The extent of the payoff scheme is only starting to come into focus, and it’s looking like it will be extensive:

We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct,” Bragg told reporters on Tuesday, noting that Trump made “thirty-four false statements made to cover up other crimes.” 

So, no, this isn’t a “minor” matter at all. It’s not just that it’s serious. It’s that, as this case plays out slowly in the public eye, it’s likely Bragg will be revealing all manner of deeply weird and wild details that will repeatedly remind the press and voters of the depths of Trump’s corruption. 

Ultimately, however, these arguments minimizing the severity of the Manhattan case aren’t really about the law at all, but about politics. It’s about an understandable frustration that Trump’s attempted coup, which culminated in a violent insurrection that upended — and in some cases ended — the lives of multiple people, has not yet been prosecuted. I share that frustration! But it’s important to understand that there is nothing minor about this case. On the contrary, the crimes committed in the Stormy Daniels case were a harbinger that showed exactly who Trump is: A person who will break any law and ruin any life, just so long as he gets his way. 

The phrase “hush money to a porn star” is titillating, but underplays how ugly this situation is. As I wrote about yesterday, Trump didn’t just have sex with Daniels. He reportedly bullied her into bed, which is gross on its own but especially alarming in light of his long history of sexual assault. He then allegedly sent goons to harass her. This isn’t about sex, but about Trump’s long history of criminal abuse of women, which only a sexist media would treat as a small matter. It’s also important to remember that Cohen arranged the hush money payment after a tape of Trump bragging about sexual assault came out in October 2016, showing that the reason for the payment was to avoid adding more evidence of Trump’s sexual predations to the public record. 

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But Daniels isn’t the only person Trump stomped all over in his quest to cheat in the 2016 election. Cohen ended up playing the role of the fall guy, serving time in prison for his role in helping Trump commit these crimes. Trump’s former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, is currently serving time because of his long history of committing financial crimes for Trump. He was also allegedly part of the scheme to pay off Daniels. Taken as a whole, this case illustrates how Trump will screw over anyone, no matter how loyally they’ve served him. 

This case illustrates how Trump will screw over anyone, no matter how loyally they’ve served him. 

The mainstream media keeps treating this case as somehow separate from the ones related to Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election. These indictments show, it’s all the same story: Trump will step on anyone or break any law to gain power and status. Just as he shamelessly fed Cohen and Weisselberg to the justice system, he was only too happy to throw his supporters under the bus after they stormed the Capitol on January 6. Just as he was willing to break campaign finance laws in 2016, he was willing to break any law that got in his way as he tried to steal the 2020 election. 

“The evidence will show he did so to cover up crimes relating to the 2016 election,” Bragg said, tying this set of crimes to Trump’s larger pattern of trying to cheat his way to victory in ways ranging from hush money payments to, eventually, an insurrection. 

His first impeachment, as well, is part of this pattern of Trump’s relentless focus on lying, cheating and stealing his way into power — regardless of who gets hurt.  As a reminder, Trump threatened to withhold military aid from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, unless Zelenskyy agreed to falsify evidence for a conspiracy theory Trump and his henchman Rudy Giuliani had generated about then-candidate, now-president Joe Biden. As multiple witnesses at the impeachment hearings explained, Ukraine needed that aid in order to hold off Russian aggression. Certainly the invasion that’s since happened should erase all doubt that this is a serious situation. Trump was directly threatening the lives of ordinary Ukrainians with this exhortion scheme. 

Trump does not care who he hurts or who he gets killed. His behavior in recent weeks has been a reminder of that. He keeps unsubtly begging his supporters to risk getting arrested — or shot — in what would be a fruitless effort to prevent this indictment. He keep singling out the judge in the case, the prosecutor, and even the prosecutor’s wife, which should all be read as threats meant to scare these people into backing down.

Trump’s worldview is purely sociopathic, where other people are disposable instruments for his use. He’s also a coward who gets other people to do his dirty work — and to suffer what should be his consequences for it. These crimes he’s been charged for aren’t separate from this pattern, but deeply woven into it. Now that we have the actual indictments unsealed, the media should stop propping up false narrative that Bragg’s is a “minor” case. Instead, it’s time to place these crimes into the larger narrative of how Trump uses people and throws them away, in his relentless pursuit of illegitimate power. 


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