Trump Indictment: Donaldbhai’s Arrest and After

Far more serious ‘criminal’ charges await PM Modi’s ‘friend’, the former US President Donald Trump

Former U.S. President Donald Trump with his defence team in a Manhattan court during his arraignment on April 4.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump with his defence team in a Manhattan court during his arraignment on April 4.

Ashis Ray

Under American law Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election—which he lost to Joe Biden—in the state of Georgia, the fact that boxes of classified White House documents were found at his current private residence in the state of Florida and his role in instigating the 6 January 2021 insurrection to violently negate his clear overall defeat in the ballot box are deemed to be ‘serious crimes’.

In case the controversial former US President is charged and found guilty of any of these crimes, he would be debarred from contesting elections and send to prison. It’s a sword of Damocles hanging over him; one which could plunge any day, indeed multiple times.

On 2 January 2021, Trump phoned Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, to pressure him into ‘finding him votes’ to make him win the state in the November 2020 presidential election. There’s a recording of this call. The matter is now being examined by a prosecutor in Georgia. The subject of classified papers being in Trump’s possession is being investigated by the country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

As for the 6 January 2021 violent attack on the Capitol, where the House of Representatives and Senate are located, a select committee of lawmakers reached the conclusion that Trump provided ‘aid and comfort’ to the mob. They also contended that he obstructed the 6 January sessions of the House and Senate, conspired to make false statements to the National Archives on the issue and defrauded the United States. In effect, the committee was convinced that he broke the law. However, a decision to prosecute him rests with the federal department of justice, which is scrutinising the findings.

Meanwhile, amid extraordinary international attention, Trump became on April 4 this month the first ever former US President to be arrested and arraigned. He was produced in the supreme court of New York state and accused of 34 counts of felony. New York is where he has lived for most of his life.

According to the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, Trump cooked accounts to conceal hush money payments ‘from campaign funds’ to a porn film actress, among other camouflages, to suppress negative information during his successful run for the presidency against the Democrat Hilary Clinton in 2016, which undermined the integrity of the process. This, the DA stressed, violated New York state’s Penal Law 175.10.

The 16-page charge prepared by the Manhattan district attorney Bragg and unsealed by Judge Juan Merchan at the hearing read that Trump ‘repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records (meaning accounts of Trump organisation and presidential campaign fund) to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election’.

The charge was supplemented by a 13-page statement of facts. This said: ‘From August 2015 to December 2017, the defendant (Trump) 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.’

It detailed: ‘One component of this scheme was that, at the defendant’s request, a lawyer who then worked for the Trump organisation as special counsel to defendant (“Lawyer A”), covertly paid $130,000 to an adult film actress shortly before the election to prevent her from publicising a sexual encounter with the defendant. Lawyer A made the $130,000 payment though a shell corporation he set up and funded at a bank in Manhattan. This payment was illegal, and Lawyer A has since pleaded guilty to making an illegal campaign contribution and served time in prison.’ Lawyer A is none other than Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, who advised him during the period concerned.

The statement further revealed: ‘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 publicise damaging allegations” about the defendant “before the 2016 presidential election and thereby influence that election”.

It went on to say: ‘The AMI CEO also agreed to publish negative stories about the defendant’s competitors for the election.’ This meant Trump’s Republican rivals in the run up to the candidacy and thereafter his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton.

On another alleged incident, the statement said: ‘About five months before the presidential election, in or about June 2016, the editor-in-chief of the National Enquirer and AMI’s Chief Content Officer (the “AMI Editor-in-Chief”) contacted lawyer A about a woman (“Woman 1”) who alleged she had a sexual relationship with the defendant while he was married… AMI ultimately paid $150,000 to Woman 1 in exchange for her agreement not to speak out about the alleged sexual relationship …’

The prosecutors have 65 days to produce greater evidence. They need to establish that the offences were not mere misdemeanours, but serious crimes, so as to fall into the category of felony. The former would mean a financial penalty; the latter could invite incarceration. Bragg maintained, Trump, following allegedly a deal constructed in the Oval Office of the White House, had himself signed nine of the cheques to Michael Cohen, who had settled with the porn film actress Stormy Daniels to buy her silence. Trump denied a sexual relationship with her.

Not unexpectedly, Trump pleaded not guilty. His lawyers vowed to media that they will fight to get the charges repealed before the trial begins on December 4. They have until August 8 to file such a motion and the prosecution is required to respond to this by September 19.

It was a day of reckoning for a man who has managed to have matters his way for much of his life. On a sunny spring afternoon, he emerged from his Trump Tower residence in Manhattan and raised a fist to a handful of his supporters across the road, but his face was grim and by no means upbeat.

Upon alighting from his SUV outside the multi-storied courthouse, he somewhat unenthusiastically waved at another group of well-wishers. Inside the building, he was taken into custody and finger printed like any other accused.

Judge Merchan had the previous day accepted a defence argument not to allow television coverage of the court proceedings. However, moving cameras caught a glimpse of a downright distraught Trump being led by two policemen in a corridor as he was ushered into the 15th floor courtroom. Here, still photos of him (which were permitted) depicted a sombre and sullen expression, a man chastened.

Trump drove straight from the court to New York’s La Guardia airport to catch a flight back to Florida on his private aircraft. Judge Merchan had warned him not to make comments that could ‘jeopardise the rule of law’. But once back in the south-eastern state he typically could not resist railing against Bragg and the judge himself. He called Bragg’s indictment of him ‘ridiculous’. Earlier he had denigrated him as being ‘an animal’. He described Merchan as ‘a Trump-hating judge’.

Cohen, who is one of the key witnesses in the case, told CNN, Bragg will provide “a significant amount of documentary evidence that will corroborate” the allegations. Cohen has a background of pleading guilty to tax fraud, lying to Congress (the US parliament) and Trump campaign finance violations. The criminal justice system in the US in some cases, like this one, require a Grand Jury (independent of the district attorney’s office) to vet and approve a prosecution. It was such a jury that formally and technically brought the charges before the court. But the onus is on the district attorney to prove his case.

Trump remains the frontrunner among Republican candidates to contest the 2024 presidential election, although low in rating with the US electorate in general. Even among Republican voters, more than 20 per cent think his present prosecution is justified.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was particularly enamoured of Trump. He could not help hugging him every time they met. He joined a rally at Dallas city in 2019 and proclaimed ‘Ab ki baar Trump sarkar’. The public endorsement was an unprecedented act by a foreign head of government and amounted to public interference in the election of another country, a diplomatic blunder.

Indian PM Narendra Modi gives a bear hug to Trump at the White House, 26 June 2017.
Indian PM Narendra Modi gives a bear hug to Trump at the White House, 26 June 2017.

Undeterred, Modi followed it up with a massive reception in 2020 for Trump at the cricket stadium in Ahmedabad—aimed at TV audiences in America to boost his chances of re-election. Trump, however, did not utter a single word in support or sympathy when later that year Chinese troops killed Indian soldiers, crossed the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China and entrenched themselves inside what is recognised as Indian territory in Ladakh.

The US-based Republican Hindu Coalition dotes on Modi and Trump. They and their founding chairman, Shalabh Kumar, donated significant sums to Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns.

There was, however, till we went to press, no comment from Kumar on the arraignment.

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