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Trump To Face Familiar Judge Following Indictment by Manhattan Grand Jury: Report

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


As the Secret Service works out the details of transporting Donald Trump to New York City to be arraigned next week following his indictment on Thursday by a Manhattan grand jury, reports have said the former president should have some familiarity with the judge assigned his case.

NBC NewYork reported Friday that Trump is likely to be arraigned on Tuesday in Judge Juan Merchan’s court. Merchan “recently presided over the case of the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, as well as the tax fraud trial in which the family’s company was found guilty on 17 counts including charges of conspiracy and falsifying business records,” the report said.

Weisselberg pleaded guilty to 15 counts and testified against the company, admitting his involvement in a scheme to defraud federal, state, and city tax authorities. He was subsequently sentenced to five months in jail. He was taken to Rikers Island after turning himself in on an agreed-upon date and he is currently serving his sentence.

Merchan has 16 years of experience on the bench, having started his career as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and came to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. He grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens, according to The New York Times. In 2006, Merchan was appointed to the Bronx Family Court bench after working in the State Attorney General’s office.

Merchan presided over other high-profile cases as well, in addition to the “soccer mom madam” case of Anna Gristina in 2012.

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“A grand jury in New York on Thursday indicted former President Trump on charges related to an illegal hush money payment in 2016 to adult film star Stormy Daniels who alleged they had an affair, according to multiple outlets,” Axios reported this week.

The most recent witness to testify was David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, who appeared before the grand jury on Monday.

“Pecker was a key player in the $150,000 ‘catch-and-kill’ payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, in which the Enquirer bought the publishing rights to her claim that she — like Daniels — had an affair with Trump before he became president. The Enquirer never reported McDougal’s allegations but its parent company, American Media Inc., featured her in other publications. Trump has denied having sex with either woman and has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the payments to them,” according to the New York Post.

However, according to a plethora of legal experts, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case is exceptionally weak.

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“The question to ask yourself in a case like this [is], ‘Would a case like this be brought against anybody else, whether he or she be president, former president or a regular citizen?’ The answer is… no,” Former Whitewater deputy counsel Sol Wisenberg told the New York Post.

“You can debate all day long whether or not… Trump should be indicted related to the records at Mar-a-Lago, whether or not he should be indicted with respect to Jan. 6 incitement of lawless activity… Those are real crimes if they occurred, and he committed them,” he said. “This is preposterous.”

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said in an interview with Fox News that the case is “outrageous.”

“[Bragg] is attempting to bootstrap [a] federal crime into a state case. And if that is the basis for the indictment, I think it’s rather outrageous,” the professor said.

“I think it’s illegally pathetic,” he said. “There’s a good reason why the Department of Justice did not prosecute this case: Because it’s been down this road before. It tried a case against former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards arguing that hush money paid to another woman, who bore a child out of that relationship, was a campaign violation. That was a much stronger case, but they lost,” Turley said, referring to federal prosecutors not charging Trump following Cohen’s guilty plea.

“Even if you can bootstrap that dead misdemeanor to something alive, you’re essentially arguing a federal case that the Department of Justice declined. But it’s also a case that requires you to show, if that is the basis of this indictment, that Trump’s only, his sole motive for paying this money or having third parties pay it was for the election,” he said.

“Bragg’s betting on a motivated judge and a motivated juror. You couldn’t pick a better jurisdiction…. [But] under Bragg’s theory, he can take any unproven federal crime and revive a long-dead misdemeanor and turn it into a felony. That’s going to raise concerns for a number of judges. But once it gets to the appellate level, he’s going to have a particularly difficult time,” he said.

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