Trump indicted: ‘These are uncharted legal and political waters’

A New York grand jury  has voted to indict former President Donald Trump for allegedly paying adult film actress Stormy Daniels, paving the way for the first-ever criminal trial against a former US president.  Trump vehemently denies he paid Daniels to remain silent about their relationship ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Now, the grand jury’s decision is expected to spark an extraordinary lawsuit that will be watched around the world.

 Other pending criminal investigations could be contributing to Trump’s legal threat, but Berkeley researchers say the implications could go well beyond the legal realm. Some have argued that the legal challenges could hurt Trump politically,  but could also  help him win the  Republican nomination in 2024. The impact could also  extend to areas of internal stability, national security and international relations.

The Berkeley News asked prominent academics for their comments on the indictment.

What is the essential constitutional and legal  significance of this charge?

The removal of a former US President is unprecedented. There is reason to fear this will spur Republicans to find a way to impeach Joe Biden and future Democratic presidents once they leave office.  Republican leaders have already condemned the charges as politics.

But despite these attacks and concerns about the  precedent they might set, New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. did  the right thing.The essence of the rule of law is that no one is above the law. If Trump committed a crime, he should be charged and prosecuted. The  far more chilling alternative is to say that once a person is elected President, they have a “free prison card” for life, offering full protection from criminal charges.

There are only two important questions in evaluating Trump’s indictment: Did the grand jury have good reason to believe that Donald Trump approved the $130,000 payment  to Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about their sexual relationship, yes , because she and her former attorney. Michael Cohen, testimony? And if so, is there enough reason to believe it violates New York City laws, including  the fraudulent way it was filed and unreported under campaign finance laws?

 If the answer to both questions is “yes” – and as far as we know it appears to be – then Bragg and the grand jury have been fully endorsed. Trump’s impeachment is therefore essential to sending a message to everyone: no one, not even a former president, is above the law.

 Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and prominent constitutional scholar

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