Trump hush money case could be tough to beat: legal experts

Trump hush money case could be tough to beat: legal experts
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 23: Stormy Daniels Fan Meet And Greet at Chi Chi LaRue's on May 23, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

All indications point to President Trump facing criminal charges over alleged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and the case against the former president could be tough to beat, two legal analysts said Thursday on MSNBC’s Alex Wagner Tonight.

Former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal offered grim assessments of Trump’s legal situation during a joint appearance on the cable show that followed reporting in The New York Times indicating the Manhattan district attorney’s office has signaled criminal charges against the former president are likely.

Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan D.A., is investigating Trump over allegations the former president made hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence in the period leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

“The Manhattan district attorney’s office recently signaled to Donald J. Trump’s lawyers that he could face criminal charges for his role in the payment of hush money to a porn star, the strongest indication yet that prosecutors are nearing an indictment of the former president, according to four people with knowledge of the matter,” The Times reports.

“The prosecutors offered Mr. Trump the chance to testify next week before the grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the potential case, the people said. Such offers almost always indicate an indictment is close; it would be unusual for the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, to notify a potential defendant without ultimately seeking charges against him.”

McQuade and Katyal both acknowledged that they were “reading tea leaves,” but they believe Bragg wouldn’t be notifying Trump of his right to appear before the grand jury if prosecutors didn’t already have the goods on Trump.

“I think that it suggests to me that they are at the end of the investigation. In New York law requires that the prosecutors at least invite the target in to testify, but they're not going to invite that person in until you are at the very end because before you interview, someone who's the target of an investigation, you want to be as informed as you can be about that investigation,” McQuade said.

Katyal said the $130,000 Trump is accused of paying Daniels for her silence is itself a misdemeanor, but the case would rise to a felony if prosecutors can prove he knowingly concealed the crime from investigators.

“My gut is that it’s not going to be a very difficult thing to prove,” Katyal said.

“I think that the evidence here so far looks pretty damning. And I think if I'm Donald Trump at this point, you know, I'd be pretty worried because this is a hard thing, I think, for him to get out of.”

Wagner noted a Rolling Stone report suggesting Trump’s lawyers are considering a novel legal strategy in which the ex-president claims he was buying Daniels’ silence to protect his wife, not his political ambitions.

McQuade said she doesn’t believe that will work.

“I think he can believe that to be true, but it's not a valid legal defense,” McQuade said.

She compared the case to a city official implicated in a bribery scandal claiming they’d have voted for a measure even if they weren’t paid off to do so.

“Both things can be true at the same time. Perhaps his overriding motive was to keep this information from his wife. But if there was a concealing of campaign expenditures, then that's a crime regardless of why he did it, whether it was to protect his wife or protect himself from the wrath of his wife," McQuade said. " If he failed to disclose a campaign expenditure, then that can be the underlying crime that Neil was thinking of that can turn a misdemeanor into a felony.”

Watch the segment below or at this link.

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