(The Hill) — An attorney representing former President Donald Trump in the Manhattan prosecutors’ hush money probe, which could soon culminate in criminal charges, described the case as “outrageous” on Monday.
During an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with anchor George Stephanopoulos, attorney Joe Tacopina said an October 2016 hush payment at the center of the case that a Trump aide made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleges she had an affair with Trump, was not “directly related” to Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump denies the affair.
The hush money has reemerged as the primary focus of the probe being run by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), who has empaneled a grand jury to hear evidence and could soon seek an indictment against the former president. Connecting the payment to a campaign finance violation could become the crux of the case.
“I expect justice to prevail, and if that’s the case, George, there shouldn’t be an indictment,” Tacopina said on ABC. “This case is outrageous, really. There should be a healthy dose of disgust from the bar, the legal community, prosecutors, defense lawyers alike. It’s not what we do. This is not what we do. We are distorting laws to bag President Trump.”
The probe revolves around a $130,000 payment that Trump’s long-time fixer, Michael Cohen, made to Daniels in the days leading up to the 2016 election. Cohen has said Trump reimbursed him for the payments in monthly installments and erroneously recorded them as a legal retainer fee.
Legal experts suggest a potential indictment of the former president would include charges of falsifying business records.
Prosecutors would need to show that Trump, with an intent to defraud, was personally involved in unlawfully designating reimbursements a legal expense, but that charge still would only amount to a misdemeanor. To rise to a felony, prosecutors would additionally need to show the fraud included an intent to commit another crime, likely a campaign finance violation.
Tacopina insisted to Stephanopoulos that the hush payment was made to prevent public embarrassment to Trump, regardless of the election.
“It’s not a contribution to his campaign,” Tacopina told Stephanopoulos of the payment. “He made this with personal funds to prevent something coming out, false, but embarrassing to himself, his family, his young son. That’s not a campaign finance violation. Not by any stretch.”
Responding to recent reports that Trump has been invited to appear before the grand jury this week, which often comes shortly before charging decisions are made, Tacopina indicated the former president did not have plans to do so.
“We have no plans on participating in that proceeding,” he said. “It’s a decision that needs to be made still. There’s no deadline set, so we’ll wait and see.”