Trump was found guilty in a sham case DA Bragg never should have prosecuted

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Donald Trump is officially the first president, acting or former, to be convicted of a felony. Such a historic moment for a young nation would ordinarily be quite somber, but both sides of the political aisle will be energized by the inflammatory result.

But today I want to consider if the investigation and trial should have even happened.

Now, I've written repeatedly that I'm not Trump’s biggest fan, so I'm sure people would expect me to be happy that he was convicted of 34 felony counts on Thursday in New York. But, sadly, I find myself writing in defense of one of America’s most difficult men to defend because I think the decisions to indict and prosecute Trump were woefully misled and likely sped us toward America’s political decay.

The jury found Trump guilty. How did we get here?

In 2016, in the days before the election that elevated him to the White House, Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, made a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, buying her silence about her 2006 sexual relationship with Trump.

Trump would then go on to win that election, with the Daniels story becoming public in 2018. He then lost his reelection bid in 2020 to Joe Biden while claiming voter fraud to pave the way for his current campaign.

Fast-forward to April 4, 2023, when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to the payment, delivering on a significant campaign promise he made.

Misguided legal decisions elevated crimes to felonies

The felony indictment of Trump was built upon a novel legal theory, tying a state crime to a federal statute the prosecutor has no authority to pursue charges on.

This is not the foundation you want for something as monumental as the first conviction of a U.S. president to be built upon. Falsifying business records in New York could be treated as a misdemeanor crime. However, in connecting these records to the Trump campaign as “illegal contributions,” Bragg was able to elevate the charges to felonies.

What do Republicans do now? I don't like the questions Trump's guilty verdict forces conservatives to ask ourselves

This is a stretch. In order to elevate the charges, Bragg needed to prove that Trump’s actions were intended to defraud voters. No other reason, such as concealing such a scandalous story from his wife and children, applies. Bragg's argument is that Trump acted to conceal this information from voters through fraud, making these crimes felonious.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. will holds a press conference on Thursday evening, May 30, 2024 following the conviction of former President Donald Trump. The Republican presidential front runner was found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records, making him the first former president convicted of a crime.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. will holds a press conference on Thursday evening, May 30, 2024 following the conviction of former President Donald Trump. The Republican presidential front runner was found guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records, making him the first former president convicted of a crime.

Legal experts were skeptical of this theory from the moment the indictment was released.

"This explanation is a novel interpretation with many significant legal problems," wrote Fordham law professor Jed Handelsman Shugerman in The New York Times. "I could find no previous case of any state prosecutor relying on the Federal Election Campaign Act either as a direct crime or a predicate crime."

Even legal scholars typically hostile toward Trump weighed in against the prosecution strategy. "Bragg has evidence that Trump acted to cover up a federal crime, but it is not clear that Bragg is allowed to point to a federal crime in order to charge Trump under the New York state law," wrote Vox senior correspondent Ian Millhiser.

DOJ declined to prosecute Trump, so Bragg decided to find a way

The reality is that Bragg has no authority to enforce federal crimes but was allowed to use a federal crime Trump was never convicted of to justify upgrading a state crime to a felony.

Trump is now a felon: Trump, guilty on all counts, carries a new label into 2024 election: Convicted felon

The Department of Justice and the Federal Election Commission have both declined to prosecute Trump over this matter, making Bragg’s decision even more baffling.

Enabled by an extremely sympathetic judge being assigned to the case, Bragg chose to hinge his prosecution on a federal crime the agencies governing over chose not to prosecute Trump for.

Trump's conviction creates even more chaos in an election year filled with it

Bragg’s indictment of Trump was the weakest of the cases brought against the former president and the most politically motivated. This is why it was the worst choice to be the first one to be both announced and finished.

Now, it is easier for those sympathetic toward Trump to write off any other convictions due to the shakiness of this one. Democrats are forced to defend each indictment through the lens of this one as a result, particularly if it ends up being successfully appealed.

Another consequence is that in the event of a successful appeal, this entire election cycle will fall under extreme scrutiny. Imagine a scenario in which Trump’s conviction is overturned on appeal after he loses the 2024 election, leading to all of history wondering if the election would have been different.

This is where the left’s folly lies. Had the first case to be decided been the classified documents probe, a set of facts far more solid than this, the result would be far less politically helpful toward Trump’s arguments that there is a “deep state plot” against him.

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It's not yet clear how the conviction will impact the November election. The four indictments brought against Trump provided an uptick in primary polling, but polling indicates an indictment hurts Trump broadly more than it helps among diehards.

Democrats don't realize what's in store for them

Even if Trump ends up losing in November, Democrats must know that this process can only harm faith in our republic, both among Trump's supporters and those moderates who are sympathetic toward some of his positions.

Another reverberation of this action is that Republicans are undoubtedly going to push to the very top of their agenda pursuing legal action against President Biden and his degenerate son. Republican majorities in Congress would mean four years of extraordinary legal scrutiny against the Biden administration.

Dace Potas
Dace Potas

Republicans have already impeached Homeland Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, subpoenaed Hunter Biden and opened an impeachment inquiry against President Biden. If Democrats view these actions over the past four years as a sideshow, they have a whole new thing coming to them in 2025 if Republicans grow their legislative power.

Norms have been routinely broken over the past decade of American politics, but this reckless prosecution is a new escalation beyond what many envisioned in 2016 or even 2020.

American politics is in distress, and in their attempts to fight Trump, Democrats are only stress-testing the system even more. We are accelerating down a path with seemingly no off-ramp, and somebody would be wise to hit the brakes soon.

Dace Potas is an Opinion fellow for USA TODAY. A graduate from DePaul University with a degree in political science, he's also president of the Lone Conservative, the largest conservative student-run publication in the country.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why was Trump found guilty? I don't know, but Bragg's case was a sham