His client hasn't even stood up before the judge yet, but this morning, former President Trump's attorney -- one of them -- was on TV.
He offered a line that's been going around, "If they can do this to Donald Trump, they can do it to the rest of us." He's right, of course -- any of us might be suspected of a crime, investigated by a grand jury and find ourselves facing charges in a court of law, where we would be entitled to competent counsel -- perhaps a tough-talking New York attorney. Aside from blatantly illegal activity, scrupulous avoidance of complex transactions* will reduce the chance of it happening but it could, in fact, happen to anyone. This is a feature, not a bug, awkward as it can be. No one is above the law, from bums sleeping on park benches to former Presidents.
The attorney went on to suggest that the actual charges ought to be Federal, not state-level, and that as Federal charges, they would be without merit. He's adding another step to the old trial-lawyer wisdom, pithily stated by Alan Dershowitz: "If the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the
table. If the law is on your side, pound the law into the table. If
neither the facts nor the law are on your side, pound the table." And if the table's not loud enough, pound jurisdictional issues. The problem with that approach is that there are a lot of things that aren't violations of Federal law but do break state law; the last time I checked, there weren't even any general Federal laws against murder.
While news coverage is hot to make the case about payments to a porn actress to cover up salacious details that might have harmed then-candidate Donald Trump's reputation,† it's actually about the more abstract notion of the source, nature and accounting for of money spent in support of his campaign (keeping a candidate's name out of the muck is indeed supporting his efforts to be elected). If she'd been a mousey millionairess from Brooklyn to whom he'd sold swampland misrepresented as a prime residential tract and she'd then been paid to keep mum, it would have been the same kind of thing only without the S-E-X that makes it catnip for the Press.
I'd like to hope this would all play out without drama, one more dull trial full of people in suits rationally arguing the facts and the law. Fat chance. The circus is coming to NYC and I hope nobody's bringing clubs, brickbats or worse; I hope the protesters pro and con keep it down to a dull roar, the police exercise mature restraint and the principals in the case refrain from intemperate or inflammatory remarks.
People in Hell hope for ice water, too. Strange how often that comes up these days.
* They don't even have to be that tricky. Forty-some years ago, my efforts to keep the heat on in a duplex I was buying on contract but no longer lived in included letting a friend live there at rent far below the going rate as long as she kept the gas bill paid. There was a good reason for this; the bridge connecting the neighborhood the house was in to a nearby university was closed all that that year for repair. Nevertheless, this friendly, mutually-beneficial deal ended up costing me huge tax deductions on both side of the duplex and having to give up the contract. The IRS agent was not unkind and walked me through my mistakes step-by-step, but there was no fixing it. I owed a heap of taxes that took a decade to pay off.
† It appears to me that any possible harm would have subsequently been mooted when his crass remarks to Billy Bush of Access Hollywood were revealed, so the sequence of events may loom large. On the other hand, I am not a lawyer. The prosecutor's got some heavy lifting to do and the defense has a lot of opportunities to pick away at the weak spots, and that's our legal system.
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