NEW YORK (PIX11) — Even though former President Donald Trump has been indicted for his alleged role in a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, it’s highly unlikely the fiery politician could do jail time if he’s convicted, experts said.
Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records during his arraignment in a Manhattan court Tuesday, authorities said. Trump pleaded not guilty during his brief court appearance.
In similar cases, either a misdemeanor or felony, an average defendant in their 70s with no arrest record typically doesn’t see the inside of a jail cell, according to lawyers.
“Despite who he is, for a non-violent E felony with no identifiable victim, a similarly situated defendant would normally not get jail time,” criminal defense attorney Michael Mullen told PIX11 News.
Prosecutors allege Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about her alleged infidelity with Trump. The alleged transaction occurred during Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016.
Cohen said Trump ordered him to make the payments to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen said he paid Daniels through a shell company and was reimbursed by Trump, who claimed them as legal expenses. Cohen also said he arranged for the publishers of the National Enquirer to pay McDougal $150,000. In exchange, the tabloid allegedly didn’t print McDougal’s story about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump.
For his efforts, Cohen said he was paid $360,000 plus a $60,000 bonus, for a total of $420,000. Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments.
After a grand jury voted in favor of indicting Trump last week, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg moved to formally charge the former president.
“The People of the State of New York allege that Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election,” Bragg said in a statement Tuesday. “Manhattan is home to the country’s most significant business market. We cannot allow New York businesses to manipulate their records to cover up criminal conduct. As the Statement of Facts describes, the trail of money and lies exposes a pattern that, the People allege, violates one of New York’s basic and fundamental business laws. As this office has done time and time again, we today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law.”
Bragg is also looking at who made the payments and how they were accounted for by the Trump Organization. In similar cases of alleged falsifying business records, the investigation is usually tied to another potential crime, Mullen said.
Still, given the statute of limitations and jurisdiction issues, Mullen called the New York case a bit of an overreach by the district attorney’s office. The lawyer also suggested authorities should be focusing on investigations into Trump’s involvement with the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol and the classified documents he allegedly kept at his Florida home.
“From the outside looking in, of all the alleged crimes Trump is potentially facing, [the New York case] seems to be the weakest case and an overreach by the prosecutors,” Mullen said. “There are so many things to attack about this case. Why did the district attorney sit on this?
“No one should be above the law. They should investigate Jan. 6 and the Georgia election interference, and the documents at his house.”
Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing as well as the two alleged extramarital affairs, claimed on his social media platform that he would be arrested on March 21 in connection to the Manhattan district attorney’s case, saying it was a “political Witch-Hunt, trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party.”
However, delays in the grand jury meeting schedule pushed a vote on whether to recommend charges to last Thursday. Trump traveled from Florida to New York City on Monday ahead of his arraignment on Tuesday.