Criminal charges against former President Donald J. Trump were announced on April 4 as prosecutors accused him of participating in a scheme to cover up an affair during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records, all of them focused on his involvement in the payment of hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Trump’s arraignment was the culmination of a nearly five-year investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, and it also sets in motion a lengthy legal process. The time period to file motions has been extended into spring and any trial won’t start until at least 2024.
Getting a conviction may be challenging, firstly because Trump’s lawyers have already begun attacking the prosecution’s witnesses’ credibility. In addition, New York prosecutors have never before combined some of the charges they have for this case. If the prosecutors choose to use a state election law as a secondary crime — which is a possibility the prosecution seems to be contemplating — it is possible that a judge could throw it out or reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor.
If the charge is allowed to stand, it amounts to a low-level felony. If Trump is ultimately convicted, he will face a maximum sentence of four years, though prison time would not even be mandatory.
Given this information, it seems like the prosecution isn’t necessarily getting a lot of harsh charges for Trump, but Trump is being given a huge opportunity to become part of the news cycle again. Trump has accused the district attorney’s being politically motivated. He also called the Manhattan grand jury’s decision “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history,” according to the New York Times. This is, of course, painfully reminiscent of his claims that the 2020 election was falsified and provides even more fuel to the narrative that the political system is somehow rigged against him.
The Trump campaign team has also seen this as a golden opportunity. They created a 36 dollar t-shirt with an image mocked up to look like the former president’s mugshot — which actually didn’t even get taken when he was charged. The campaign also says it brought in 15.4 million dollars in the two weeks after the charges were filed. Another indication that the indictment has helped Trump to grow his fundraising base is that nearly a quarter of those who contributed to Trump during that period had never donated to him before, according to the Associated Press.
This benefits Trump greatly in a moment that was supposed to weaken his legal standing. Although many wish to see these charges followed all the way through into a conviction, it is a spectacle that, right now, only seems to be benefiting Trump. It will be important to see if that momentum switches as the trial develops and we close in on the 2024 election year.
Alli Hering is from St. Paul, Minn. Her majors are political science and social studies education.