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Alvin Bragg Might Have Just Re-Elected Donald Trump

Newsweek – Patriotism was in the air at the 62nd International Red Cross Ball in Palm Beach on March 18, the same day former President Donald J. Trump announced that he expected to be indicted and arrested the following week. Among the high society guests at the island town’s storied event, which Trump hosted at Mar-a-Lago from 2005 to 2017, were a number of heavy-hitting Republican donors who predicted to me that such an event—a first in American history—would only help Trump’s campaign for their party’s nomination and subsequent return to the White House in 2024.

The day Trump predicted he would be arrested came and went, as pundits examined the case brought against him by New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg, with virtually all informed legal minds concluding that it was weakly constructed, based on testimony from unreliable witnesses, time-barred under both New York state and federal law, and, since the indictment hinges on an alleged federal campaign finance violation, outside Bragg’s legitimate jurisdiction as a mere county DA.

It took another 12 days for Bragg to convince a New York grand jury to indict the former president. The move has widely been received as indicative of banana republic politics, with a highly partisan government official effectively arresting the head of the opposition party on what appear to be unsustainable charges in advance of a presidential election that polling suggests the opposition leader will win. It does not help Bragg’s credibility that he explicitly campaigned for office on a promise to “get Trump.” And it is hard to ignore the sordid fact that under his watch, New York City’s crime rate skyrocketed by 22% last year, even as Bragg’s office downplayed prosecution of violent crimes.

Bragg’s case against Trump is facially absurd. Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, is alleged to have paid $130,000 in “hush money” to porn actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election. This is not illegal conduct, but Bragg claims the former president processed the payment through his former attorney Michael Cohen and then improperly recorded the transaction as a payment of legal fees. His principal witnesses are apparently Cohen, a convicted felon whose plea bargain for a lesser prison sentence appears to have involved an agreement to testify against his former client, and Daniels, who was ordered to reimburse Trump’s legal fees in a defamation case she brought against him and subsequently lost. Even if the charge is accurate, under New York state law it is at most a misdemeanor falsification of business records, the prosecution for which is subject to a two-year statute of limitations that expired years ago.

The state law misdemeanor, if valid, could become a felony if the records falsification covered up another crime. Bragg has argued that Trump’s action violated federal campaign finance law, on the theory that the payment was intended to benefit his 2016 presidential campaign. Bragg, as a county district attorney, has no jurisdiction whatsoever over federal law—but even if he did, the operative law is itself still subject to a five-year statute of limitations, which has also expired. Even if this charge were not also time-barred, Bragg would still have to affirmatively disprove that Trump acted from any other motive, such as protecting his family from embarrassment. Inconveniently for the prosecution, Cohen, Bragg’s purported star witness, has testified under oath that this was precisely why Trump made the payment in such an opaque manner.

If this sounds politically motivated to you, you are not alone. Even The New York Times, which has not merely opposed Trump but also falsely labeled him a traitor, a foreign agent, a sexual predator, and an insurrectionist, among other dubious claims of criminality, has described Bragg’s approach as “untested and therefore risky” and published articles casting serious doubt on the case’s viability. The vociferously anti-Trump Washington Post‘s editorial board described the charges as “the least compelling,” adding that there is “cause for concern” and that his prosecution may be “not worth continuing.” More than 60% of Americans agree that the charges are politically motivated—a figure that rises to 70% among independents. Bragg himself apparently has doubts. A year ago, he abandoned the case altogether and only revived it after being publicly shamed by two of his underlings, who had resigned over the decision. His predecessor Cyrus Vance Jr. also abandoned the case and promptly retired, while the Biden administration’s Justice Department took a pass on prosecuting Trump on the federal campaign finance charge—over which it, and not the New York County DA’s office, had proper jurisdiction (before it was time-barred).

Surely this is not the end for Trump, who has reportedly been fantasizing about a very public arrest in which he is handcuffed and led away in a New York-style perp walk. He clearly expects that such a spectacle will make him a martyr to his followers, who have been re-energized of late, and even to non-supporters who fear the politicization of American criminal justice more than they dislike him.

Trump’s alleged excitement may well be justified. During his first impeachment, his approval ratings rose six points before he was acquitted by the Senate. During his second impeachment, he left office with the highest approval ratings of his presidency before he was again acquitted and returned to private life as the de facto exiled leader of the Republican Party. Since talk of Trump’s indictment began earlier this month, he has registered increasing leads in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination across a wide range of polls, besting DeSantis, who has not declared his formal candidacy but is the next-most popular in a hypothetical race, by as much as 30 points. In New York state, where the legal proceedings will unfold, he leads DeSantis by 25 points in a hypothetical GOP primary. Multiple national polls testing the question of a hypothetical Trump-Biden general election rematch give the former president a five-point edge, beyond the statistical margin of error. According to the chatter in Palm Beach, many of the Republican donors who had declared decisively for DeSantis after the disappointing 2022 midterm elections are now having second thoughts, openly musing that ousting Biden is a higher priority than passing the torch to a new generation, and that Trump could be the man to do it after all.

The 2024 election is still a long way off, but if Trump wins, it will be in no small part thanks to Alvin Bragg and his dangerous politicization of justice and weaponization of the rule of law.


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