The New York Case Against Trump Relies on a ‘Twisty’ Legal Theory That Reeks of Desperation

To convert a hush money payment into 34 felonies, prosecutors are invoking an obscure state election law that experts say has never been used before.

Jacob Sullum at Reason: Jurors in Donald Trump’s trial at the New York County Criminal Courthouse in Manhattan have heard a lot about paying people to keep their mouths shut. The New York Times understandably calls the trial a “hush money case.” But both sides in the case, the first-ever criminal proceeding against a former president, object to that characterization, and their dueling interpretations go to the heart of the legally dubious charges against Trump.

When Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election to stop her from talking about her purported 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, that transaction was “not illegal,” Trump’s lead defense attorney, Todd Blanche, said during his opening statement last week. “Entering into a nondisclosure agreement is perfectly legal. Companies do that all the time….Executives, people who are wealthy, people who are famous enter into nondisclosure agreements regularly, and there’s nothing illegal about it.”

When lead prosecutor Matthew Colangelo objected to Blanche’s gloss, Judge Juan Merchan overruled him, and it is not hard to see why. As a general matter, what Blanche said about nondisclosure agreements was plainly accurate. The same could not be said for Colangelo’s description of the case.

“This was a planned, coordinated, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures, to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior, using doctored corporate records and bank forms to conceal those payments along the way,” Colangelo said during his opening statement. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

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