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Will Manhattan DA Bragg charge Trump? Should he?

Here’s a rule of thumb I think most reasonable people would go along with: If you’re going to indict a former president of the United States, make sure the crime he supposedly committed is something serious and isn’t some rinky-dink offense like jaywalking or littering — or, while we’re on the subject of trivial “crimes,” how he accounted for money he allegedly paid to a porn star to keep her quiet about their supposed relationship.  

Yes, we all know the long-held principle that nobody is above the law in America. But Donald Trump’s alleged payment to Stormy Daniels to keep her mouth shut — and calling it a “legal expense” on Trump Organization books — is hardly the kind of crime worth pursuing against a former president, one who just happens to be a Republican running for the White House again in 2024, especially since the crime allegedly occurred seven years ago. Even federal prosecutors decided not to pursue a case against Trump, although Trump’s former attorney pleaded guilty to federal charges related to his involvement with the payment.

But if Trump is correct — and with Trump that’s always a big “if” — Alvin Bragg, the progressive Democratic district attorney in Manhattan, may have decided that putting him on trial is the right thing to do, and that a trial (which would quickly become a daily media circus) is worth the turmoil it inevitably would impose on an already deeply divided country. We might take Bragg seriously if this weren’t the very prosecutor whose name — at least in conservative circles — is pretty much synonymous with “soft on crime,” who gives the impression that he thinks many criminals are society’s real victims and that certain crimes aren’t really crimes at all. 

You don’t have to like Donald Trump — and, full disclosure, I don’t — to conclude that a trial would be seen by half the country as one more attempt by Democrats to bring him down. In case you are wondering, there’s no historical precedent for this: Trump would be the first former president in our history to be indicted for a crime.

But if you’re going to charge a former president it ought to be for something a little more substantial than how you reportedly accounted for hush-money paid to a porn star. Remember when Trump said he wouldn’t lose any votes if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue? Well, if he ever does shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, prosecute him. But falsifying business records to camouflage the payment typically is a misdemeanor in New York State. Bragg could bump the case up to a felony by claiming that Trump lied about the payoff to cover up an illegal campaign donation to his 2016 presidential campaign.

But what if Trump were to tell a jury that he wasn’t trying to hide an affair from voters but, rather, from his wife. That’s not a crazy argument to make. And a jury might conclude, “Yeah, that makes sense.” For what it’s worth, Trump denies having any sexual liaison with Stormy Daniels. You’re free to believe that if you want — just as you’re free to believe in the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. 

And if the jury were to come back with a “not guilty” verdict, all that would do is give credence to a belief that the case was political — and that Donald Trump is a victim of what he likes to call a “witch hunt.”  

While it may be technically true that nobody is above the law, prosecutors decide every day whether or not to go forward with criminal cases. So, why might Bragg pursue this one? Maybe because early in his tenure Bragg decided not to bring a case against Trump — one centered on whether Trump allegedly fraudulently inflated the value of some of his properties — a decision that reportedly led two of his prosecutors to quit their jobs. One of them wrote a book critical of Bragg’s decision not to go after Trump. Maybe Bragg is feeling pressure from the anti-Trump crowd — a pretty big demographic in Manhattan, where just about nobody voted for Trump. In 2020, Joe Biden won Manhattan with 84.5 percent of the vote; Trump got a measly 14.5 percent. 

Being who he is, Donald Trump has called for protests from his loyal supporters if he is charged. This is irresponsible — but coming from Trump, it’s not surprising. What if the protests were to cross a line and turn violent? Trump would get the blame, from Democrats and their allies in the media and even from sensible Republicans. How would that help him in his latest presidential bid? Short answer: It won’t. The man apparently has learned nothing from what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.   

No one wants to stand trial in criminal court, but before this is over Donald Trump could come out on top. Republicans — even those who don’t especially like him — may rally to his defense, seeing a trial as the latest evidence that Democrats won’t rest until they actually bring him down.    

This is something that may not have occurred to Bragg, a progressive politician who operates in the left-wing bubble that is Manhattan. But it should have. Because if Alvin Bragg decides to prosecute Donald Trump, and if that winds up helping Trump win the White House in 2024, the district attorney may lose more than a few of his progressive pals — not to mention their campaign donations. 

And if a progressive politician in a provincial place like Manhattan, inadvertently or otherwise, helps Trump to return to the Oval Office, as far as the left is concerned that would be a real crime. 

Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Substack page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.

Tags Alvin Bragg Manhattan District Attorney Stormy Daniels Stormy Daniels–Donald Trump scandal The Trump Organization Trump prosecution

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