What’s really going on with Donald Trump’s first criminal trial

Trump is on trial! If each of you reading this can kick in $10 or $25, it'll help keep Palmer Report firing on all cylinders at this crucial time in our nation's history: Donate now
Palmer Report readers: sign up for our free mailing list here

There’s a certain satisfying irony that Donald Trump’s very first criminal trial is scheduled to begin on Tax Day, April 15th. I can think of only one other more apropos April date but, unfortunately, this year Hitler’s birthday falls on a Saturday.

The irony resides in the odd fact that the trial begins on the one day of the year set aside for Uncle Sam’s IRS, the government agency Trump cheated the most but has yet to criminally charge him. As with murder, there is no statute of limitations on tax fraud, so I suppose they have plenty of time.

Anyway, the so-called Stormy Daniels trial is presumably set in stone for April 15th. I say “so-called” because the trial isn’t really about her. Instead it’s about the bizarre, Rube Goldbergian and, as it turns out, highly illegal financial machinery that Trump put in play in order to reimburse the man who actually paid her.

I don’t mean to sound like Trump, but not many people know what the trial is really about. I know I didn’t until it was explained to me by journalist Adam Klasfeld, and I would now like to pay it forward by explaining it to you.

It goes like this. Stormy Daniels needed to be kept quiet about a one-time sexual encounter she had with Trump while Melania was giving birth to Trump’s son Barron. Trump was desperate to shore up any scandalous loose ends like Daniels because his presidential run had recently been hit hard by the release of the Access Hollywood tape. Recall, that’s where Trump had been recorded talking to Billy Bush. That was the infamous “grab them by the pussy” tape.

Trump’s former lawyer, fixer and now anti-Trump activist Michael Cohen is the one who paid Stormy Daniels for her silence. He raised the money by taking out a $130,000 home equity loan then funnelled the money to Stormy Daniels’ lawyer through a shell company. Very shady so far, but nothing illegal, strictly speaking.

The illegal part began when Trump started reimbursing Cohen for the payment to the tune of $420,000. Why $420,000? Along with the $130,000 to Daniels, Cohen also needed to be reimbursed for $50,000 he paid to a company called RedFinch out of his own pocket. RedFinch was a tech company that rigged online polls in Trump’s favour. Included in his invoice to Trump was Cohen’s fee of $60,000. Since Cohen had to report all this money as income, Trump agreed to pay an additional $180,000 to Cohen to cover his tax liability. If you kept track that brings the total to $420,000.

The method of reimbursement Trump used to pay Cohen was the illegal bit. Trump repaid Cohen in 12 monthly instalments of $35,000, disguised as retainers and legal expenses. The Trump Organisation marked each of those transactions as “legal expenses” on the general ledger. Every time Trump did that he broke the law.

The first payment was made with a check to Cohen. The actual paperwork came to eleven more payments generating eleven invoices, eleven checks, and twelve ledger entries. And 11 + 11 + 12 comes to 34 separate crimes. Hence the indictment on 34 criminal counts.

Under New York law each falsified record becomes a felony if it’s done while committing a crime. The state argues that Trump engaged in tax fraud by disguising Cohen’s reimbursement as legal fees. What’s more, Trump did this to hide his dalliance with Stormy Daniels from the voters, which also makes it a campaign finance violation.

Trump could have pulled the whole thing off by just paying Daniels directly from his personal account and listing it as an “entertainment expense.” It’s very likely that no one would have ever noticed. But because he was so paranoid about having yet another sexual scandal crashing down on him so close to the 2016 election, Trump tried to be “clever” about it and hide everything. Trump is not clever and he shouldn’t have pretended to be.

So it will now be up to a jury of 12 men and women to decide if Trump is guilty. Since the paper trail is indisputable, it shouldn’t be hard. If the jury is stupid, and many juries are, the prosecutor will need to carefully spoon feed them all the sleazy facts of the case. That should take a few days of calling witnesses, calling for documents to be entered into evidence, and a final summation that might take a day or two. Trump will have his day in court, but it’s hard to imagine what his attorneys are going to say in his defence. Expect something inept.

If it’s done right, the jurors will almost have to find Trump guilty. Thirty-four times. It’s complicated but not differential equations. If the trial starts on time it ought to be over no later than June, maybe July if Trump is able to delay and confound the process, which doesn’t seem likely. We shall see.

It will almost certainly end with Trump being found guilty. Whether or not this means jail time is up to the judge. Whether or not Trump will be allowed to remain free on bond pending appeal is also up to the judge. But the indisputable fact will remain, Donald Trump, a convicted felon, will be running for president of the United States. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

Trump is on trial! If each of you reading this can kick in $10 or $25, it'll help keep Palmer Report firing on all cylinders at this crucial time in our nation's history: Donate now
Palmer Report readers: sign up for our free mailing list here