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Why didn’t Trump’s trial start years earlier? Blame Bill Barr

Why are Donald Trump's alleged crimes from 2016 being prosecuted now? In part because of former Attorney General Bill Barr's actions.


A couple of hours before the start of his first criminal trial, Donald Trump posed a question by way of his social media platform. “Why didn’t they bring this totally discredited lawsuit 7 years ago???” the former president asked. “Election Interference!”

For now, let’s not dwell on the Republican’s obvious errors of fact and judgment, including the fact that the criminal case has only been “totally discredited” in his active imagination. Let’s also brush past the fact that the defendant took a variety of steps to try to delay these proceedings further, leaving Trump in a position in which he believes the case is happening both too slowly and too quickly.

Let’s instead consider his question on the merits.

After all, it’s easy to imagine some fair-minded observers wondering the same thing. The alleged misconduct in this case is unrelated to the 2024 election cycle and the 2020 election cycle, and stems from actions Trump allegedly took in 2016 and 2017.

So why is it that the case against the presumptive GOP nominee is only reaching a courtroom now? As it turns out, we know the answer — though it isn’t one Trump likes to talk about.

To briefly recap, as Election Day 2016 approached, Trump and his political operation were concerned about the public learning about his alleged sexual encounter with a porn star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels. With those fears in mind, the then-candidate and his team created a shell company, which Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, used to pay off Daniels, effectively buying her silence.

Soon after, Trump, according to prosecutors, falsified business records while making incremental payments to Cohen, reimbursing the lawyer for the scheme.

These are the same payments that ultimately sent Cohen to prison, which leads to the obvious question of why he, and not his former client — identified as “Individual 1” in court documents — faced serious consequences. After all, Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes he committed in coordination with Trump, and he produced evidence of Trump-signed checks.

As Rachel explained on last night’s show, the federal prosecutor overseeing the Southern District of New York at the time was Geoffrey Berman — a lifelong Republican, who worked on the Trump campaign and the Trump transition team, and who was chosen by Trump for the office. It was Berman who later wrote a book about his experiences, shedding light on what transpired in the Cohen case.

In fact, according to Berman, after his office secured Cohen’s guilty plea, officials from the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., started intervening in matters in New York City, effectively trying to make the Trump/Cohen mess go away.

Berman went so far as to claim that once Bill Barr became Trump’s attorney general, Barr “not only tried to kill the ongoing investigations, but — incredibly — suggested that Cohen’s conviction on campaign finance charges should be reversed.”

Berman’s office was told to “cease all investigative work” on the allegations until Barr and his team were satisfied that there was a legal basis to the campaign finance charges to which Cohen had already pleaded guilty. The prosecutor wondered at the time about whether the then-attorney general was trying to shield Trump from possible legal liabilities after he was out of office.

All of which is to say, Barr and his team directly intervened in an ongoing federal criminal investigation that implicated the then-president, who’d appointed Barr. As part of this intervention, Berman’s office was also directed to remove damaging references to Trump in court filings.

In case that weren’t enough, Trump’s Justice Department also directed Berman to investigate Democrats who’d committed no crimes. When the prosecutor resisted, Barr told the public that Berman had resigned. He hadn’t. Soon after, Trump fired him.

But while the then-attorney general and his team interfered in a case that implicated their boss, it had the effect of delaying local prosecutors' investigation because they deferred to their federal counterparts.

Eventually, Trump’s Justice Department quietly let it be known that it was no longer examining allegations in the Cohen case, and two weeks later, prosecutors in New York started issuing subpoenas.

Why is the former president’s case only coming to trial now? In part because the Trump administration politicized the legal process and perverted a federal investigation without cause.

The former president has the entire scandal backwards. He believes the real controversy is that the case wasn’t prosecuted sooner, when it reality, it would’ve been prosecuted sooner had partisans on his team not corrupted the process on his behalf.