“My New One in the LA Times: “Why it’s hard to muster even a ‘meh’ over Trump’s New York criminal trial”

I have written this piece for the LA Times. It begins:

In watching some of the breathless coverage of Donald Trump’s “hush money” trial, I’m reminded of the 2004 quote from former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that, “You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want.” People want the hush money case to be the big case that can take down Trump because it may be the onlyone that goes to trial before the election….

But the hush money case that opens Monday in New York? I have a hard time even mustering a “meh.” Trump may not be convicted of a felony in the case, and if he is, there’s a reasonable chance of an eventual reversal on appeal. Besides, the charges are so minor I don’t expect they will shake up the presidential race. They may actually make that situation worse…

Although the New York case gets packaged as election interference, failing to report a campaign payment is a small potatoes campaign-finance crime. Willfully not reporting expenses to cover up an affair isn’t “interfering” with an election along the lines of trying to get a secretary of state to falsify vote totals, or trying to get a state legislature to falsely declare there was fraud in the state and submit alternative slates of electors. We can draw a fairly bright line between attempting to change vote totals to flip a presidential election and failing to disclose embarrassing information on a government form. If every campaign finance disclosure violation is election interference, our system is rife with it.

I certainly understand the impulse of Trump opponents to label this case as one of election interference — that could resonate with voters and make them less likely to vote for Trump. But any voters who look beneath the surface are sure to be underwhelmed. Calling it election interference actually cheapens the term and undermines the deadly serious charges in the real election interference cases…

Trump also may have serious grounds for appeal in the New York case. It is far from clear that appellate courts would treat the hush money payments as legitimate campaign expenses that needed to be reported, as opposed to personal expenses. And it is uncertain that failing to report a campaign expenditure required by federal law can be a violation of New York state election law against promoting “the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.” These issues may well have to be sorted out by higher courts.

Share this: