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Manhattan prosecutors get a little more specific on Trump hush money charges

District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team laid out some of the alleged crimes that may underlie its legal theory against the former president.


A question has long hovered over Donald Trump's Manhattan hush money case, where he’s charged with falsifying business records: What’s the other crime or crimes involved that make the charges against Trump a felony instead of a misdemeanor? Thanks to a recent filing from District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team, we got some official detail on that.

For a brief refresher, recall that Trump pleaded not guilty last month at his state court arraignment on a 34-count indictment. All counts allege falsifying business records in connection with Trump’s reimbursement to his former fixer Michael Cohen, who paid porn actress Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election to stay quiet about an alleged affair she had with Trump a decade earlier. (Trump has denied the sexual encounter.)

Prosecutors got some specifics down on paper for all to see, even if they’re playing their cards close to the vest.

Specifically, the charge against Trump is falsifying business records in the first degree, a low-level felony. Under the first degree statute, to make it a felony rather than a misdemeanor second degree charge, prosecutors need to show that the defendant falsified records “when his intent to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.” You might think that the indictment would specify the other crime allegedly at issue, but you’d be wrong.

Understandably, Trump’s legal team has asked for details. And in the new filing, dated Friday by Bragg’s team, prosecutors provided some detail. Prosecutors made clear they thought Trump wasn’t entitled to this information and that, in any event, they don’t have to prove intent to commit or conceal a particular other crime. Nonetheless, they wrote that “the crimes defendant intended to commit or to aid or conceal may include violations of” state tax and election law, federal election law, and falsifying business records (both the misdemeanor and felony variety). They also pointed to their “statement of facts” that accompanied Trump’s indictment, which the filing said referenced “an agreement to unlawfully suppress negative stories about defendant before an election in order to influence the outcome of the election.”

To be sure, it was expected that election and tax law violations would be the other crimes that encompassed Bragg’s legal theory against Trump, and the DA himself has alluded to that fact. But it’s still important that prosecutors got some specifics down on paper for all to see, even if they’re playing their cards close to the vest.

Speaking of playing it close, prosecutors likewise did so in response to Trump’s request for more information on who or what entity they think Trump intended to defraud. Remember, the statute refers to an “intent to defraud,” but that isn’t specified in the indictment, either. According to the new filing, prosecutors didn’t specify that because they don’t have to. Citing state precedent, they said they don’t have to show that Trump acted with intent to defraud “a particular person or business entity.”

Further pretrial litigation could shed more light on the charges and provide a clearer window into prosecutors’ theory of the case ahead of a potential trial next year. (Meanwhile, Trump is trying to remove the case to federal court, which probably won’t succeed but doesn’t delay the state case from moving forward.) Of course, we’ll see if and when this case even goes to trial, especially in light of possible additional criminal charges Trump could face in the Georgia and Justice Department probes between now and then.

While any criminal case is serious for all involved, the legal ins and outs of this low-level felony case might not be at the top of Trump’s mind a year from now.  

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