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Trump Felony Convictions Imperiled

Void, mistrial, or delay?

by | Jul 3, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Law, Opinion

Manhattan prosecutors agreed on July 2 to delay the sentencing of Donald Trump for his conviction in New York on 34 felony counts relating to allegedly fraudulent characterizations of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. Pending consideration by trial judge Juan M. Merchan of briefs and oral arguments by both sides, the scheduled July 11 sentencing is set for Sept. 18, beyond the July 15-18 Republican National Convention. This dramatic pause in the otherwise relentless pursuit of Trump arose from a game-changing US Supreme Court decision the day before.

New York Convictions Imperiled

The Supreme Court’s surprising July 1 ruling in Trump v. United States threw a radioactive monkey wrench into the best-laid plans of New York Attorney General Alvin Bragg. The Supreme Court’s holding in Trump applied to a four-count indictment of the former president for alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election “by spreading knowingly false claims of election fraud to obstruct the collecting, counting, and certifying of the election results.” However, by laying out novel grounds for broad presidential immunity, the decision directly impacted Bragg’s New York case convicting The Donald.

Trump v. United States held that a former president is subject to absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for actions within his core constitutional authority, presumptive immunity (rebuttable by sufficient state evidence) for all official acts, and no immunity for unofficial acts. Trump’s liberal critics claim his alleged crimes in the hush money case constituted unofficial acts prior to his election as POTUS: Both prosecution and defense are toiling away drafting briefs for Merchan addressing this pivotal distinction.

However, the implications of Trump for the highly controversial New York cases extend to evidence presented to the jury in Trump’s convictions concerning “official acts,” which have now been deemed inadmissible even in an otherwise proper criminal prosecution. Ironically, the New York cases are in dire jeopardy because Merchan and the prosecution aggressively permitted evidence of Trump’s official acts to be presented to the jury despite strident, timely objections by defense counsel.

Requesting a delay of the scheduled July 11 sentencing in a letter to the court, Trump’s defense counsel argued:

“As explained below, the Trump decision confirmed the defense position that DANY [District Attorney New York] should not have been permitted to offer evidence at trial of President Trump’s official acts … [O]n March 7, 2024, President Trump filed a motion in limine to preclude evidence of his official acts based on the presidential immunity doctrine. In that filing, we objected to anticipated testimony from certain potential witnesses, evidence of President Trump’s social media posts and public statements, and a 2018 filing with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). We also requested an adjournment of the trial date because the Supreme Court had granted certiorari in Trump on February 28, 2024, and had agreed to hear argument on April 25, 2024.”

Merchan denied the motion and adjournment and “noted” defense counsel objections when presidential immunity concerns were again raised during the trial. Had the court waited as requested or excluded official-acts evidence upon which Trump’s defense team now avers the DANY “placed highly prejudicial emphasis,” the conviction of Trump on 34 felony counts would be untainted.

What The New York Times called “likely to be the only moment of criminal accountability for the twice-impeached and four-time indicted former president” is now a moment likely never to pass. Even if the alleged mischaracterizations of hush money payments are not voided by Trump’s “official acts” immunity, the New York case will almost certainly be vacated as a mistrial because substantial evidence was brought forward that was squarely within the “official acts” category prohibited by the Trump decision.

The Death of Biden Lawfare?

With sentencing kicked beyond the GOP convention and the evidentiary foundations of Trump’s New York convictions kicked from underneath Merchan, a retrial seems moot – what point is a pre-election witch hunt after the election intended to be despoiled by said witch hunt? What many have called political lawfare by Bragg is irrevocably shredded by the highest court of the land’s pronouncements in Trump.

Many left-leaning pundits have begun clamoring that Trump will employ the expansive new presidential immunity enunciated by Trump to target his enemies, deport immigrants, or otherwise act with impunity as America’s dictator-king. Interestingly, this appears to regard Trump’s November win as a sure thing. It also ignores the implications of the Trump decision for Joe Biden.

In her lengthy, Trump-condemning dissent, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson) accused the majority of placing former presidents “beyond the reach of the federal criminal laws for any abuse of official power”:

“Let the President violate the law, let him exploit the trappings of his office for personal gain, let him use his official power for evil ends. Because if he knew that he may one day face liability for breaking the law, he might not be as bold and fearless as we would like him to be. That is the majority’s message today …

“In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law.”

Trump No Longer a Felon?

Biden is accused by his opponents of being implicated in illegally pressuring social media empires to censor Americans’ free speech, graft in Ukraine, family corruption and influence-peddling, and mishandling of high-security public documents. Whether he is competent to stand trial following the Special Counsel Robert Hur investigation is now irrelevant: He is immune. Sotomayor and the liberal chatterers apparently do not perceive how much criminal cover the Trump decision affords POTUS Biden. Furthermore, the Trump decision will squarely protect Biden from alleged retaliatory prosecution by the 45th president if and when he reclaims the Oval Office in November.

Those who pursued Trump like rabid piranhas now hold an empty toolbox. Any conviction of the former president for mishandling of documents is unlikely post-Trump, as are any convictions for the various lawfare machinations conjured against him this election year (and boasted about by Biden during the recent debate).

It seems entirely possible that Donald Trump will not be a felon for long.

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