President Trump was arraigned on Tuesday on 34 counts of charges of falsifying business records, the first time in U.S. history that a president faced criminal accountability.
Prosecutors painted a narrative that, in many ways, resembled the archetypal political scandal: a nervous presidential candidate bought the silence of women threatening to go public with their liaisons, breaking the law in the process.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said at a Tuesday press conference that he had chosen to bring the felony charges because under New York law, falsifying business records is a felony if it is done in furtherance of another crime. The charging documents themselves do not mention the other crimes, but Bragg laid them out at the presser.
“The participants’ scheme was illegal. The scheme violated New York election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. The $130,000 wire payment exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap, and the false statements in AMI’s books violated New York law,” Bragg said. “That is why Mr. Trump made false statements about his payments to Mr. Cohen. He could not simply say that the payments were a reimbursement for Mr. Cohen’s payments to … Stormy Daniels. … To make that true statement would have been to admit a crime.”
With Trump, the country has since been through four years of nonstop scandal, two impeachments, and a multi-month long coup attempt. The 2016 hush money allegations seem quaint in comparison.
The allegations unveiled by Bragg, however, still tell the story of a detailed scheme to illegally influence a federal Presidential election, albeit in a much more familiar and standard-corrupt way than Trump would go on to attempt in 2020.
It’s the first time in U.S. history that any president has faced criminal charges. The moment weighed on protestors who gathered Tuesday morning in Collect Pond park, outside of the Manhattan criminal courthouse where Trump was arraigned.
“If you can erroneously use the law to go against somebody, that’s a problem, and that should be a problem for everybody,” one man who identified himself as Al, 62, told TPM.
Like many of Trump’s diehards, Al, who declined to provide his last name, regarded the indictment “as an attack on me or anyone.”
The facts, as laid out by Bragg’s prosecutors, start in August 2015.
Trump and his attorney Michael Cohen met with David Pecker, then-CEO of National Enquirer publisher AMI. At the meeting, charging documents said, a criminal scheme was born: Pecker would act as “eyes and ears” for stories that might damage the Trump campaign, and he would pay to silence them.
Prosecutors said that there were three people who received hush money payments under that agreement.
The first was a Trump Tower doorman who allegedly claimed that Trump fathered an illegitimate child — he purportedly received $30,000 for his silence.
The second person, identified in the statement of facts as Woman 1, approached Pecker in June 2016 about a liaison she had with Trump years before. The timeline and description matches that of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate who had a 2006 dalliance with Trump.
Per the statement of facts, McDougal received $150,000 from AMI in a hush money payment arranged by Michael Cohen. Trump, prosecutors said, initially wanted to reimburse the money via cash — less easily traceable. But Cohen dissuaded him, opting instead for checks via an LLC he would form.
But it’s all a prelude in a way to the person identified in the charging documents as Woman 2, described as an “adult film actress” who threatened in October 2016 to go public with the story of her liaison with Trump: Stormy Daniels.
Daniels would eventually receive a payout of $130,00 from Cohen, but not after Trump tried to delay paying her until after the election because by then, prosecutors said, “it would not matter if the story became public.”
After winning the election, Trump lavished gratitude on Pecker, allegedly inviting him to his inauguration and to a White House dinner in summer 2017.
Cohen got a reimbursement package, too, prosecutors said, delivered monthly throughout 2017. It allegedly worked like this: Cohen submitted fake invoices to the Trump Org, which Trump, by that point as President, would fulfill by personally signing the checks.
It neatly ties the money trail back to Trump, and allegedly to the Oval Office itself: that’s where, in February 2017, Cohen allegedly spoke with Trump about the arrangement.
Alan Weisselberg, the Trump Org’s then-CFO, allegedly scribbled down the details of Cohen’s repayment on a bank statement that the Trump attorney had provided. Weisselberg allegedly agreed to double the payment amount and add in bonuses so that after taxes, Cohen would receive far more than the $130,000 he sent to Daniels.
As the feds began to close in in spring 2018, prosecutors said, yet another Trumpworld denizen appeared: Lawyer C.
Cohen appears to have demurred, but details in the document indicate that Costello matches the description of Lawyer C.
“The whole objective of this exercise by the [federal prosecutors] is to drain you, emotionally and financially, until you reach a point that you see them as your only means to salvation,” a June 2018 email from Lawyer C to Cohen cited by Bragg’s prosecutors reads. “You are making a very big mistake if you believe the stories these ‘journalists’ are writing about you. They want you to cave. They want you to fail. They do not want you to persevere and succeed.”
While some of Trump’s supporters on the outside saw the charges as yet another example of a “two-tier justice system,” as one Pennsylvania couple at the rally put it to TPM, others had a more complicated view of the former president.
Daniel Christmann, a Brooklyn plumber and failed Senate candidate who pleaded guilty to a charge related to his illegal entrance of the Capitol building on January 6, told TPM that he felt disillusioned by the lack of support Trump had given him.
“I think it’s disgusting that, when I got arrested, the right treats Trump like a monarch,” he said. “Its sick how the right doesn’t stick together, and they’re so uncivically minded.”