Republicans quickly denounced Donald Trump’s historic indictment in New York on Thursday. They’re free to do so, but such denouncements aren’t based on the strength of the charges against Trump or the evidence underlying those charges — without the charges or the government’s theory of the case being public, they couldn’t be.
But if it’s public information that Trump is indicted, why aren’t the charges public? That’s because grand jury proceedings are secret, and the indictment is sealed. Trump might be arraigned on the indictment Tuesday, and that could be when the charges are unveiled for all to see. Of course, it’s possible that the indictment could be unsealed before the arraignment, or it could be leaked before arraignment or prior to unsealing.
Of course, we’re not completely in the dark about what’s coming. We just learned that the indictment has approximately 30 counts of document fraud-related charges, according to NBC News sources. At first glance, that might seem to say something about the strength of the case. But such a number wouldn’t be unusual for a long-term investigation. In any event, we can’t judge quality based on the quantity of charges.
Trump arraignment: Follow our live blog beginning at 10 a.m. ET on Tuesday for the latest updates and analysis on Trump’s arrest in New York.
If, for example, those counts relate to charges of falsifying business records, that may simply reflect the number of records at issue. We still don’t know, for example, how the prosecution might satisfy the charge of falsifying business records in the first degree, a felony that requires proof of intent to commit or conceal another crime on top of falsifying business records. Nor do we know how the prosecution would seek to prove Trump’s intent to defraud, which is required under both the first-degree records charge, as well as the misdemeanor charge of falsifying business records in the second degree. Neither charge would necessarily result in much, if any, incarceration if there’s a conviction. Trump insists that he did nothing wrong.
So while we all want to know how this case will play out, we don’t yet have the tools to start to make that assessment. This is the beginning of a legal marathon. Time for everyone to stretch and take a deep breath.