The past 24 hours of Trump legal news, explained

Trump allies newly indicted in Arizona, testimony continuing in New York, and the Supreme Court hearing arguments in DC.

The past 24 hours of Trump legal news, explained0

Former US President Donald Trump exits his criminal trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 25, 2024, in New York City. Jeenah Moon/Getty Images Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The Arizona attorney general’s office unsealed a new case indicting several top Trump allies, including Rudy Giuliani, for trying to steal the 2020 election.

The former publisher of the National Enquirer spilled new details about Trump in testimony during the former president’s first criminal trial in New York.

But the Supreme Court gave Trump new reason to hope his second criminal trial, in DC, will be delayed until after the election.

All that happened this week in an unusually tumultuous 24 hours for the Trump legal saga, which continues to dominate the 2024 campaign.

The most important development was probably that Supreme Court argument. There, Trump’s lawyers were arguing that his federal indictment for trying to steal the 2020 election should be thrown out because it involved “official acts” he took as president.

Several conservative justices displayed striking sympathy for Trump’s argument, though it’s unclear how the Court will rule on the merits. Still, a divided Court likely means the ruling will be complex or slow in coming down — and either scenario could well delay the biggest, most important Trump trial until after November.

Yet Trump could still end up a felon before then, due to the hush money trial happening in New York. There, David Pecker, the prosecution’s first witness, testified about Trump’s knowledge about hush money payments that he had helped arrange.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Trump himself was not indicted, but the charges against major Trumpworld figures like Giuliani and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows effectively send a message that those who collaborate in his schemes may well face legal consequences.

The odds rose that Trump’s most consequential trial won’t happen this year

The federal case against Trump for trying to steal the 2020 election was viewed by many observers as the most consequential of his four prosecutions. It combined a substantively important underlying issue — the health of US democracy — with a tight, clean case that could go to trial and end in a verdict before the 2024 election. Initially, it was scheduled to take place this March.

But pretrial preparations have been paused since December so higher courts can deal with a Trump appeal, in which he argued that he should be immune from prosecution for “official acts” he took as president. That appeal went before the Supreme Court for arguments on Thursday, and observers like my colleague Ian Millhiser thought the arguments went quite well for Trump.

There were really two things at stake in the arguments Thursday: whether Trump’s trial can go forward at all, and how quickly it can go forward.

Overall, the argument was much less about the specifics of the Trump prosecution and much more about the broader question of prosecuting a former president for his conduct while he was in office. Four conservative justices voiced deep misgivings about that idea, while the three liberals were fine with it.

The Court’s swing votes — Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett — were less clear. But experts came away from the arguments believing it was unlikely that they’d give a simple green light to the prosecution. Instead, the Court seemed likely to issue a ruling setting out new standards for what counts as a presidential “official act” and what doesn’t.

That may not sound so bad in theory, but in practice, the likely impact would be to delay the trial. The window for the trial to happen before November 2024 was already narrow. Judge Tanya Chutkan has pledged to allow nearly three months more prep time if she does get permission to proceed. Even a late June Supreme Court ruling could in theory let the trial kick off in September. But if the Court issues a new ruling with novel legal standards, implementing that at the trial court level would require new briefings and arguments, which take more time.

Arizona sent a message that would-be election stealers will be held accountable

Even though Trump got good news in his main election-stealing case, several of his allies in that plot got some very bad news in Arizona. On Wednesday night, prosecutors in the office of Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes (D) unsealed charges centered on the “fake electors” plot as it unfolded there.

To recap the fake electors plot: Biden won Arizona and other key swing states, and therefore his team’s chosen slate became the official electors, casting these states’ electoral votes for Biden. But Trump’s team organized their own elector slates, declaring them to be the true legitimate electors. These fake electors then submitted their own “electoral votes” to Congress in the hope that Vice President Mike Pence would choose to count them and flip the election to Trump.

Several prosecutors have argued the fake electors scheme was illegal, violating conspiracy, fraud, or even forgery laws. It was part of the big federal case against Trump, as well as the Georgia case against Trump, in which several fake electors in that state were also charged. Michigan’s fake electors were indicted in that state, though Trump was not.

Trump wasn’t charged in Arizona either — though several of his top allies in the election-stealing plot were. Those indicted were:

  • Eleven Arizona fake electors: The most prominent name in the bunch is Kelli Ward, the former chair of the Arizona Republican Party, who has long been associated with the state’s far right.
  • Seven Trump lawyers and aides who organized the fake elector plan: Their names are redacted in the official indictment, but per reports, details offered make clear they are Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, John Eastman, Jenna Ellis, Christina Bobb, Boris Epshteyn, and Mike Roman.

It’s not clear why Trump wasn’t charged, but he is referred to as “Unindicted co-conspirator 1” in the indictment.

Effectively, though, the Arizona indictment serves as another warning for those who might be tempted to try and mess with democracy by stealing an election: Don’t do it, or you could be charged criminally.

One of the most effective constraints on Trump’s authoritarian ambitions in his first term was the repeated tendency of his key aides to refuse to carry out his orders. Some may have done so because they thought he was acting unethically, but others may have had the more self-interested motive of fearing legal exposure. The Arizona charges, like the Georgia and Michigan ones, make it clear that fear is well-founded.

David Pecker testified about what Trump knew on hush money payments

Finally, Trump’s criminal trial in New York — for falsifying business records related to hush money payments to Stormy Daniels — is still in its early stages, but the first witness to take the stand gave some helpful testimony for the prosecution.

Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, testified at length about his relationship with Trump and about the Enquirer’s involvement in keeping damaging stories about Trump from coming out during the campaign.

One of those payments was made to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who alleged an affair with Trump. The Enquirer bought MacDougal’s “life rights” so she wouldn’t publish the story elsewhere.

Pecker testified that, during the transition period after Trump won, the president-elect summoned him to a Trump Tower meeting, asked how “our girl” was doing, and thanked him for his help with her — demonstrating Trump’s personal knowledge of the McDougal payment.

Pecker also repeatedly testified that he believed Trump wanted these hush money payments made to help with his campaign — not to prevent personal embarrassment or his family members finding out, as his defense team has alluded.

But this testimony matters because, to make the felony charges against Trump stick, prosecutors have to prove that he falsified business records to cover up a crime. That crime, they’ve argued, could be violating campaign finance law. They want to prove that hushing up Daniels was an effort to influence the election. And Pecker’s testimony helps them do that.


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