Here is the column:
“We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said of his indictment of former president Donald Trump.
Yes, the man who has routinely knocked down felony crimes to misdemeanors — or dismissals — actually suggested that he had no alternative but to charge Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records.
He insisted, our “business integrity” is at stake. After all, as Bragg intoned with no sense of self-awareness, he has always believed that “the bedrock of the basis for business integrity and a well-functioning business marketplace is accurate record-keeping.”
It is all about a well-functioning business marketplace — not his campaign pledge to bag Trump on some (unnamed) crime.
When people think Bragg, they think business.
The first indictment of a former American president was a historical moment, and Bragg failed to rise to that moment.
Bragg released an indictment that was so vague on key elements that it is unclear what the grand jury thought it was voting on. He vaguely referenced state and federal election laws and later refused to add any details on how they relate to the prosecution.
The result is an indictment with the substance of a legal Slurpee: it was immediately satisfying for many with virtually no legal substance.
Bragg solved the problem over his uncertain authority by avoiding any specificity on that authority. He could have put “details to follow” in the caption of the indictment.
Legal experts went immediately into a frenzy over what this could mean and exactly what was the crime that Trump was allegedly covering up with payments to cover up alleged affairs with three women.
If these experts were left scratching their heads on such key elements, how did laypersons on a grand jury understand the basis for this indictment?
We may learn more from the bill of particulars, but this indictment is unintelligible from a legal perspective in understanding the basis for the prosecution.
After the arraignment, Bragg made sweeping references to state and federal election laws before saying that he didn’t have to give such details. He just filed the first charges against a former president and refused to specify the basis for the felonies.
He then held a press conference and refused to answer questions about this basis because he “doesn’t have to.”
What is particularly maddening is that, while Bragg refused to explain the basis for the indictment, he did undermine his own case . . . whatever it may prove to be.
He insisted that Trump could not be allowed to use “fictitious legal services” for political purposes. As with his claimed intolerance for criminal conduct, Bragg’s professed outrage was bizarre given analogous conduct by Democrats like Hillary Clinton on campaign-finance allegations.
The Clinton campaign had previously denied funding the dossier, which was used to push false Russia collusion claims against Trump in 2016, and it buried the funding in the campaign’s legal budget through former Clinton campaign General Counsel Marc Elias.
Last year, the Federal Election Commission fined the Clinton campaign for funding the Steele dossier as a legal expense. Those fictitious legal services did not produce the same revulsion in Bragg or other prosecutors.
This is no time for the niceties of reason in an age of rage. Bragg showed that the only important thing was the name on the indictment caption rather than its basis.
That reality was evident in a new CNN poll. Over half (52%) said that politics had played a “major role” in the indictment. Over three-fourths (76%) said that the move was at least somewhat political. More importantly, only one-third (37%) thought that Trump’s alleged payments to Stormy Daniels were illegal. However, 60% said that they still supported charging Trump. So it is a political prosecution and most do not see a crime, but it is still supported by many citizens.
In Manhattan, the basis for charges against Trump is largely irrelevant. This is a thrill kill case and Bragg just delivered on his campaign promise to bag Trump on something . . . anything. We still do not know what that was, but it does not matter.
Bragg knows his audience. The question is whether he knows this judge. Bragg is counting on Judge Juan Merchan being intimidated or distracted by the historical moment. Even if he is right, Merchan will not be the last judge who will have to review this case.
At some point, Bragg will have to state the actual criminal basis for these 34 counts.
Until then, history — and Trump — will simply just have to wait for Alvin Bragg.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and a professor at George Washington University Law School.