Donald Trump’s Indictment: What Next?

Qamar Bashir

By: Qamar Bashir

Former President Donald Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. These charges stem from an investigation into hush-money payments made to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged affair before the 2016 election. The charges, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, allege that Trump, along with others, orchestrated a scheme to influence the election by suppressing negative information about him, thus violating election laws. Under New York state law, falsifying business records with the intent to defraud or conceal another crime is a felony. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has called them politically motivated..

The guilty verdict against Donald Trump has significant implications for his potential presidential run in the upcoming elections. Legally, a felony conviction does not automatically disqualify a candidate from running for or being elected as president, as the U.S. Constitution does not list a criminal conviction as a disqualifying factor. Therefore, despite the charges and any subsequent convictions, Trump can still contest the elections. However, the charges and ongoing legal battles may influence voter perceptions, divert campaign resources, and attract intense public and media scrutiny, potentially impacting his campaign’s effectiveness.

There have been numerous claims that the verdict against Donald Trump is biased, with critics arguing that the jury was selected to include individuals predisposed against him. Concerns have been raised about the impartiality of the jurors, suggesting that the selection process was manipulated to ensure an anti-Trump outcome.

Additionally, Trump’s supporters have accused the presiding judge, Juan Merchan, of bias. They claim that his rulings were unfairly prejudicial against Trump, indicating a judicial partiality. Judge Merchan, known for his tough but fair approach, has faced scrutiny in this high-profile case where the stakes are particularly high. Allegations of judicial bias are common in politically charged cases, but there has been no substantiated evidence provided to support these claims against Judge Merchan specifically.

The most prominent claim is that the Biden administration is using the legal system to undermine Trump’s credibility ahead of the 2024 election. Critics argue that the timing and nature of the charges are politically motivated, suggesting a coordinated effort to discredit Trump and prevent him from running for office again. Prominent Trump supporters, including his legal team and political allies like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Senator Lindsey Graham, have publicly denounced the charges as part of a broader campaign to silence Trump. While the investigation was initiated by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which operates independently of the federal government, the perception of political motivation remains strong among Trump’s supporters.

The guilty verdict against Donald Trump carries significant implications for his future. Legally, it could result in penalties such as fines, probation, or imprisonment if the conviction is upheld. Politically, it may harm his reputation and influence, complicating any potential 2024 presidential run. Personally, the ongoing legal battles and public scrutiny will take a considerable financial and emotional toll.

Trump has several forums available for appealing the verdict. Initially, his legal team can file post-trial motions in the trial court that delivered the verdict, requesting a new trial or to set aside the verdict based on procedural errors or new evidence. If these motions are unsuccessful, he can appeal to the intermediate appellate court, which in New York is the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

If the Appellate Division upholds the conviction, Trump can further appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which has the discretionary power to select cases of significant legal or public interest. In certain circumstances, if there are claims of constitutional violations or issues of federal law, Trump could take his case to federal courts, potentially leading to the U.S. Supreme Court, although this requires substantial legal grounds.

The success of Trump’s appeals will depend on several factors, including the strength of his legal arguments. Demonstrating significant legal errors during the trial or presenting new evidence that materially impacts the verdict could improve his chances. Historically, appeals have seen varying degrees of success based on these grounds. For example, in *United States v. Skilling* (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the honest services fraud statute, leading to a resentencing for former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.

While appellate courts are generally deferential to the trial court’s findings of fact, they thoroughly review alleged legal errors. High-profile cases attract significant public and media attention, which can indirectly influence the legal environment. Trump’s case will likely follow this pattern, impacting the procedural aspects of the appeal process. Overall, Trump’s path forward involves leveraging the appellate mechanisms, with success hinging on the robustness of his legal arguments and the interpretations of the appellate courts.

If Trump is elected president and later declared guilty by the final federal court, several complex constitutional questions would arise. One major issue would be presidential immunity. The U.S. Department of Justice has maintained that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted, based on concerns about the separation of powers and the executive branch’s functionality. This stance was notably referenced during the investigations into Presidents Nixon and Clinton. However, this opinion is not legally binding and could be challenged.

Another potential consequence of a final guilty verdict could be impeachment. If Trump were convicted of serious crimes, Congress could pursue impeachment and removal from office, which is the constitutional mechanism for addressing presidential misconduct. The process and outcome would depend on the political climate and the composition of Congress at the time. Historical precedents, such as the impeachments of Nixon (who resigned before he could be impeached) and Clinton, provide some context but no direct parallels, as no president has been convicted of a crime while in office.

Ultimately, any legal battles over presidential immunity or the ability to prosecute a sitting president could reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which would have the final say on these unprecedented issues. While Trump can legally run for and serve as president despite his legal troubles, the implications of a final guilty verdict would introduce significant constitutional complexities and potential political turmoil.

By: Qamar Bashir

Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC