Former U.S. President Donald Trump was arraigned and pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records at the Manhattan Criminal Court on April 4.
This marks the first time a former United States president has been arraigned. An arraignment follows a suspect’s indictment, which comes after a grand jury votes to charge a person with a crime. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump with undermining the 2016 presidential election by paying porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to not reveal their relationship.
The night of his arraignment, Trump gave a speech from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., during which he took aim at the prosecution.
“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” Trump said in the speech. “This fake case was brought only to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election and it should be dropped immediately.”
Emory Law School Professor of Law Paul Zwier said that he believes Bragg, a Democrat, was not politically motivated to bring charges against Trump, as some Republicans have suggested. He said that Bragg performed a cautious and thorough investigation. Zwier said that while Bragg might have faced some political pressure to charge Trump, the trial has a “legitimate legal basis.”
An area of concern for the prosecution is the testimony of Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who was caught lying to Congress about his role in the hush money scheme.
“There’s gonna be a good cross-examination of him by the president’s lawyers when he gets on the stand, that will be rehearsing all of the lies that he’s told on behalf of Trump in the past,” Zwier said.
Trump’s next in-person hearing is scheduled for Dec. 4. Zwier said that while Trump could ask for his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment, dragging on the trial might work in the former president’s favor.
“It does seem to me there’s some indication from the defense side that it’s in their strategy to try to delay things and potentially delay things until presumably, he’s president, and then presumably can control outcomes more,” Zwier said.
Trump is also facing three other open criminal investigations. In Washington, D.C., a special counsel is determining whether Trump intentionally misled attorneys about classified records he kept after leaving office, while another investigation centers around whether Trump attempted to alter the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The final investigation, headed by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (96L), concerns Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. An important piece of evidence in the investigation is Trump’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During the phone call, Trump asked Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes.”
Associate Professor of Political Science Bernard Fraga stressed that this is just the beginning of a criminal process that has the potential to last for months, if not years.
According to Fraga, it will be challenging to predict how the criminal proceedings will affect Trump in the upcoming Republican primary and presidential election. While Fraga said a conviction would disqualify Trump for the presidency for most Americans, it may make him more endearing to his fanbase.
“Republicans, as far as we can tell, generally seem to continue to support the president and, if anything, his poll numbers for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 have gone up since his legal battles have accelerated,” Fraga said.
Fraga said that Trump has demonstrated that he is a master at shaping the narrative to make himself look favorable. He said that this is a skill he believes Trump will employ again in the next election cycle.
“This would appear to be something that would be damaging to former President Trump and his re-election prospects,” Fraga said. “In reality, it looks like it’s helping him with his core supporters and feeding into a narrative that Trump is a victim of a broad conspiracy to undermine his candidacy in 2024.”
Asst. News Editor | Spencer Friedland (26C) is from Long Island, New York, majoring in political science and minoring in film and media. He previously interned for local County Representative Susan Berland.