Randy Eliason: “I Was Skeptical of the ‘Zombie’ Trump Case. I Stand Corrected.”

NYT oped:

When it came to the New York prosecution of Donald Trump, I was skeptical.

I was among the commentators who criticized the case. It was old, the so-called zombie case that had been kicking around for years. It appeared to rest on several untested and controversial legal theories. It seemed like a relatively trivial bookkeeping charge, unworthy of a prosecution of a former president.

But I have to hand it to the Manhattan prosecutors. Over the course of this trial, they convinced me — as they clearly and overwhelmingly convinced the jury. There will be an appeal, of course, and Mr. Trump may have some persuasive legal arguments.

But the jury’s quick decision reinforces the district attorney’s view that this was a righteous prosecution and about much more than mere accounting entries…

I think the prosecutors took a tough case and put on a seamless, coherent and persuasive presentation. But I also think that even the prosecutors, if they were being candid, would agree they got an assist.

The defense case, like Churchill’s infamous pudding, had no theme. The defense didn’t have to prove anything, but Mr. Trump’s lawyers failed to suggest any coherent, alternative explanation of events that might have raised a reasonable doubt in the minds of one or more jurors.

The defense might have had a shot with a targeted argument, admitting to an indiscretion with Ms. Daniels and the hush-money payment but insisting that the state had failed to prove that Mr. Trump knew his company’s internal bookkeeping documents were false or that he caused them to be made with intent to cover up another crime….

In presiding over the case, Justice Juan Merchan largely accepted the prosecution’s legal theories. Within that legal framework, the prosecutors did a great job presenting their case, just as the judge did in handling the trial. But I think some of those legal theories are potentially vulnerable.

There are questions about the proper meaning of intent to defraud under New York law, and whether that standard could be met by these internal documents. There’s a potential issue with using a federal campaign finance law as the basis for turning a state misdemeanor into a felony. This case raised these and other novel questions, and the defense will now have a chance to argue those questions before a higher court….

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