The real ‘sleaze’ factor in the Trump trial in New York

The real ‘sleaze’ factor in the Trump trial in New York

The really nasty part of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecution of former President Donald Trump for election interference isn’t what you think.

The sleaze factor isn’t the kind of work done by actress and director Stormy Daniels, the company’s National researcher, model Karen McDougal’s accusations that she had an affair with Trump, or the fact that celebrity lawyers arrange compensation for their clients’ stories.

The real sleaze factor is the way the media, some legal commentators and Trump activists continue to frame the case as a matter of “hush money” and “porn stars” – which is wrong from a legal perspective and disturbing because of the perpetuation of inequality in the rule of law. our society – and how Trump’s lawyers are trying to profit from these disparaging characterizations.

The media is trying to capitalize on the potential clickbait value of these descriptions, while Trump enablers and his defense team hope that the sleaze factor will aid their defense by discrediting witnesses and testimony through a kind of ‘sleaze by association’ strategy.

Vocation The people against Donald J. Trump a “hush money” case is just wrong.

As many people (myself included) have pointed out, there is nothing illegal about paying someone for confidentiality or silence; it always happens with non-disclosure agreements. In a sense, every therapist, doctor, and lawyer is “paid for silence” because the professions require them to remain silent about their patients and clients.

Former President Donald Trump in court.

Former President Donald Trump attends his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 6, 2024 for covering up payments related to extramarital affairs.

Win McNamee/AFP via Getty Images

This case concerns falsification of company data with the intention of interfering in elections. Simply put, it’s a front for illegal campaign donations.

The money paid to Stormy Daniels to help Trump’s campaign was reportedly covered up by framing it as payment for legal services to Trump’s former lawyer and self-described “fixer” Michael Cohen. Among the prosecution’s critics are legal commentators who argue that this prosecution is “a disgrace” because: “It’s not the crime; it is the cover.”

While it is understandable that the media wants to use terms that they think will attract a larger audience, they also unwittingly perpetuate power imbalances that lead to injustice.

The real shame is the apparent ignorance of the fact that covering up crimes is a crime and that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has used this theory of prosecution thousands of times in the past, albeit not against a former president for election interference .

Critics like these complain that the election interference case in Manhattan is the weakest case against Trump and should not be tried first. This view wrongly assumes that prosecutors have complete control over the timing of a case. The reality is that we should be grateful that a single case even made it through the enormous obstacles to prosecuting Trump: obstacles that arise mainly from inequality in society and that give a rich and powerful person every benefit of the doubt; reluctance on the part of police and prosecutors to take them on; and of course a lot of help from small armies of lawyers.

This position also smacks of the belief that a prosecution of a powerful man must pass a certain smell test of decency. By this standard, such a prosecution should not be based on crimes considered too low for a suspect of such a high class. Just beneath the surface of this position lurk dark prejudices.

Let’s start with the frequent dismissal of this first criminal trial of a former president of the United States because it involves a “porn star”—as if that makes it too inappropriate a subject for the criminal indictment of a former president. This is a gem at its most insidious, as it masks the sexist and misogynistic perspective underlying Stormy Daniels’ disdain for her work.

Besides the fact that it’s a needless dig (imagine a witness being a B-list actor) I personally hate the use of the term “porn star.” It reminds me of my experience as a sex crimes prosecutor, where too often law enforcement and prosecutors failed to protect victims of sex crimes or questioned the truthfulness of complainants and witnesses because of their work in a sex-related job. I often hear the term “child pornography,” which in my opinion makes child sexual abuse sound like a silly or flippant term. Criminal charges against defendants who allegedly sexually exploited children should not be labeled as merely a form of pornography.

Also, the criminal charges against Trump – charges that are part of a series of charges against him for attempted election interference – may be nicknamed using the word “porn” to soften their severity.

While it is understandable that the media wants to use terms that they think will attract a larger audience, they also unwittingly perpetuate power imbalances that lead to injustice.

Stormy Daniels in New York.

Stormy Daniels arrives at ABC’s “The View” on the Upper West Side on March 21, 2024 in New York City.

James Devaney/GC Images

The reporting alleging that the prosecutor in the Trump trial is playing up salacious aspects of the case in an effort to hide weaknesses or distract from the supposedly drier evidence of the money trail is legally inaccurate because, just as the groundwork must be laid for custodial witnesses such as bankers to enter corporate records, a similar groundwork must be laid for what Trump reportedly feared would become public.

This is why the prosecutor had to present evidence about the scandals and embarrassing stories that were the police’s case National researcher and famous lawyers. They must determine what Trump allegedly wanted to conceal and the methods by which the concealment occurred. They did this through the testimony of the former National researcher publisher David Pecker to explain how tabloids pay for stories and how that system may have been used to help Trump bury stories that were bad for his political campaign.

Similarly, attorney Keith Davidson testified about his clients who have entered into contractual arrangements to be paid for the rights to stories or the right not to publish them. All of this is necessary to demonstrate how Trump was allegedly trying to bolster his campaign by preventing another publicized incident of his demonstrably misogynistic, sexist, predatory behavior toward women.

The same need does not exist for Trump’s defense team. They could have cross-examined both witnesses by simply pointing out that neither could provide strong evidence of Trump’s personal involvement. Instead, Trump’s team seemed to try to play on stereotypes and prejudices about shoddy behavior — perhaps hoping that the jury would be less likely to believe people tainted by working with stories of shady behavior.

The defense team seems to be having a lot of trouble coming up with a coherent defense strategy.

David Pecker’s cross-examination varied between trying to poke holes in his memory as if he was too old and hesitant to actually remember what happened, versus also trying to make his brand of checkbook journalism look inappropriate. They did even worse with Davidson’s cross-examination, not only walking the jury through a history of celebrity scandals but even suggesting that Davidson was essentially engaged in racketeering.

This latest line of questioning seems to be moving toward the defense that Trump was the victim of extortion by an opportunistic lawyer, rather than a candidate trying to suppress stories that would hurt his political chances.

In my view, such a defense is unlikely to work, since the motivation that would make Trump vulnerable to an extortion scheme to embarrass him in front of his wife and family is the very same motivation he would have had to continue his campaign of shame to save. Spoiler alert: Voters pay attention to embarrassing revelations about people.

Like I said at the beginning, the real sleaze factor in this process isn’t about what you think. It’s not about what Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, David Pecker or Keith Davidson do for a living. The real sloppiness is in how we allow disparaging prejudices about women to be perpetuated to fuel the inequality used to protect the rich and powerful.