Donald Trump’s felony case next month will be his biggest legal nightmare to date

Donald Trump/Stormy Daniels
Photo: White House/Alan via Wikimedia Commons (CC license 3.0)

Donald Trump just had his (fake) reputation as a business genius demolished last week when he was fined north of $350 million for fraud and banned from doing business in New York state. The month before that, he got hit with a fine of $83.3 million for defaming writer E. Jean Carroll, whom he sexually assaulted in the 1990s.

But what’s coming up next month may make the start of the year seem a breeze by comparison.

Starting March 25, Trump goes on trial in New York City on charges related to the hush money he and former fixer Michael Cohen paid adult actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump is alleged to have had affairs with both women and then paid them to prevent news of the relationships becoming public during the 2016 presidential campaign.

What makes this court case different is that it’s a criminal case. Indeed, Trump faces 34 felony charges. If he’s convicted, he could be sent to prison.

Moreover, the case is going to move swiftly. Trump’s lawyers have had no luck slowing it down, let alone getting it thrown out altogether. The trial is expected to last six weeks, which means by the time the Republican convention rolls around in July, the party may be nominating a convict.

When Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed the charges against Trump last spring, they were widely dismissed by many pundits as overreach. But it’s worth remembering that Cohen went to prison on federal charges for exactly the same case. In the indictment against Cohen, Trump was identified as “Individual-1.” Later, U.S. Attorney Gerald Berman said that then-Attorney General Bill Barr tried to get the investigation killed and, failing that, tried to get Cohen’s conviction overturned.

This case is just bad news for Trump in every possible way. It’s his first criminal case, and it’s the most sordid. Trump doesn’t have a loyalist like Barr to protect him this time. He’s trying to build momentum for his campaign, knowing that polls show a criminal conviction will drain support from voters. He’s facing the potential of jail time, which reportedly terrifies him. (He’s afraid of wearing a jumpsuit.)

Interestingly, the one thing that Trump hasn’t mentioned is the ironic twist that would come if he is found guilty. Convicted felons lose their voting rights.

Trump is facing three other criminal cases, two in federal court and one in Georgia state court. At this point, none of those cases look likely to head to trial before the November election. Trump’s attorneys have been dragging out the federal cases, knowing that Trump can essentially throw out the charges again himself if he is re-elected.

The Georgia case has been derailed by the messy controversy about the relationship between Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade. Willis has been subjected to all kinds of racist attacks as a result but is facing increasing calls to step aside so that the focus of the case is back on Trump’s efforts to overthrow the Georgia election results.

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