Home US Trump’s trial will electrify the world. But his enemies, so desperate to see him locked up, may have made a monumental tactical error, writes ANDREW NEIL.

Trump’s trial will electrify the world. But his enemies, so desperate to see him locked up, may have made a monumental tactical error, writes ANDREW NEIL.

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Former US President Donald Trump at the New York State Supreme Court this week

It’s hard to blame Donald Trump (aka Dozy Don) for apparently falling asleep during the first day of his “hush money” trial in New York on Monday.

Yes, it is the first criminal trial against a former US president and he is also the only prominent presidential candidate to have faced criminal prosecution. Add to that the possibility of going to jail if he is convicted, and we might expect Trump to be paying close attention.

But the early stages of the trial have been dominated by arcane legal arguments over procedural points and the endless process of selecting a jury, now an inevitable feature of American justice.

That could continue for another week or more. So, despite all the hoopla surrounding this trial and the massive media circus that attends it, Trump and the rest of us should be prepared to be bored a little more still.

But patience will be rewarded, because this trial is the stuff of sensational dreams (porn stars, hush money, dodgy lawyers, Playboy bunnies, illicit sex and cover-ups), which means it will find a mass audience far beyond those who are normally interested. on Trump for mundane matters like his politics.

Former US President Donald Trump at the New York State Supreme Court this week

The circus, which has set up its big tent on the 15th floor of a rather dingy Manhattan court building, will soon captivate much of the United States, and much of the rest of the world as well.

Whether it will also provide a compelling case against Trump is another question. Dozy Don faces 88 criminal charges in cases spread across four states.

Many Democrats, who would love to see him go down on one or all of the charges, are dismayed that the first is the New York case that they, along with legal experts and political commentators, fear is the weakest, and that Even if Trump is found guilty, voters will have a hard time understanding that what he did was actually criminal.

This also coincides with Trump’s oft-repeated claim that he is the victim of political persecution by Democratic activists, including many in the Biden administration, who are using the law against him because they fear they can’t beat him at the polls.

In his view, the process has all the characteristics of a show trial. Trump will be tried by an overwhelmingly Democratic jury in a trial presided over by a Democratic judge and organized by a Democratic district attorney.

Manhattan, where the jury will be selected, voted 87 percent for Joe Biden in 2020. Nearly 100 potential jurors were chosen Monday, but 50 percent were immediately dismissed because, by show of hands, they admitted they might not be fair or impartial.

Without a doubt, the selection process will eliminate the most egregious prejudices against Trump. But in the end, the jury will still have an overwhelming Democratic majority.

The presiding judge, Juan Merchán, donated to the Biden-Harris campaign in 2020 and other ‘progressive’ causes. The amounts were a pittance but it illustrates how he is also inclined.

On his way to court yesterday, the defendant said Judge Merchan “hated Trump” and was “totally conflicted.”

District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a left-wing Democrat, campaigned promising to “get” Trump. He wasn’t sure why, but he promised that he would find some charges to drag Trump to court. Since he accused Trump, he has raised $850,000 (£680,000) for his re-election campaign.

The American justice system has always been too influenced by politics, but it is now so politicized, by both Democrats and Republicans for their own purposes, that it can hardly be considered independent and impartial.

However, even in what Trump and his supporters see as a rigged trial, it is not clear that District Attorney Bragg has a compelling enough case to secure a conviction.

Porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom Donald Trump is alleged to have had an

Porn star Stormy Daniels, with whom Donald Trump is alleged to have had a “sexual encounter”… the trial is the stuff of sensationalist dreams, writes Andrew Neil, with porn stars, hush money, dodgy lawyers, Playboy bunnies, illicit sex and covering them up

In 2006, Trump, then married to Melania, is alleged to have had a “sexual encounter” with a porn star who goes by the name Stormy Daniels. Ten years later, on the eve of the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid her £105,000, widely seen as money to keep her quiet until the election was over. It is not illegal under New York State law to pay someone to bury a sex scandal.

Cohen was gradually reimbursed through 2017 through a monthly advance disguised, it is alleged, as payments for legal services, which also compensated him for the tax he would have to pay on this income.

This “false accounting” is what Bragg has focused on. Still, such tampering with business records is generally considered relatively minor (a misdemeanor) rather than a more serious crime or felony.

To reach that higher level of criminality, Bragg has to prove, under New York law, that Trump was cooking the books with the intent to commit a crime, which would turn a misdemeanor into a felony.

It is not clear what that crime was, certainly not to this layman or even to many legal experts. It could involve illegal use of campaign funds by paying a mistress. Or using money to help a presidential candidate through illegal means. Or maybe it has something to do with tax fraud.

It’s really not clear. That is why federal prosecutors, who examined the matter, decided not to pursue this path. Neither did Bragg’s predecessor.

But, throwing caution to the wind, the District Attorney has doubled down, completing his indictment by including every invoice, check and ledger entry related to Cohen’s payments, giving him a charge sheet against Trump of 34 felonies, each one with a possible sentence of four years in prison.

So far, Bragg has proposed a few “theories” about Trump’s actual crime, three of which the judge has agreed are worthy of the court’s attention. The trial will no doubt make clear exactly what Trump allegedly did.

‘Stormy’ plans to testify. The same goes for Karen McDougal, a former Playboy bunny with whom Trump is said to have had an affair for months (his friends of hers tell me he was actually in love) and who was paid £120,000 to keep quiet.

Cohen will be the prosecution’s key witness as he is on a mission to destroy his former boss. But he already admitted to lying under oath and served three years in prison for tax evasion and corporate violations. Therefore, he may not be the decisive witness that Bragg hopes.

The trial will last four days a week and last six to eight weeks. As this is a criminal trial, Trump has to attend all sessions, which will limit his ability to campaign or fundraise at a time when President Biden is raising tens of millions for his re-election.

On the other hand, the trial will give Trump tons of what he loves most: publicity. Whether that bolsters his bid for the White House remains to be seen.

The “show trial” aspect could arouse sympathy for him not only among his followers. Or the seamier side of the case could simply repel independents and moderate Republicans, especially women, among whom Trump already does poorly in the polls.

Georgia’s criminal case against Trump, in which he is accused of attempting to interfere with the outcome of the 2020 election, is much more serious than the New York charges.

But Trump is a lucky man. The Georgia case is in trouble because the District Attorney is mired in scandal for having an inappropriate relationship with her lead prosecutor.

So New York is in first place and could be the only case to be completed this side of the November elections.

We don’t even know if, in the event of a guilty verdict, prosecutors will seek jail time (not that being behind bars, which is unlikely, would necessarily prevent Trump from running for the White House).

We also don’t know the attitude of the Secret Service, a federal agency committed to protecting presidents past and present, if New York law enforcement tried to imprison him.

Unexplored territory indeed, although that is always the case with Trump. Dozy Don may be his new nickname, but no one will be sleeping when this case really begins.

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