Eric Mink: ‘Deciding Trump’s fate in the latest case will be New Yorkers’


Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States speaks at the CPAC Washington, DC conference at Gaylord National Harbor Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, March 4, 2023. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

BY ERIC MINK, Special To The Jewish Light

Viewpoints expressed in letters, commentaries, cartoons and other opinion pieces reflect those of the writer or artist, and not those of the Light. 

Sometimes the intersections of television and life are so incredibly ironic that it’s hard to believe they aren’t scripted by screenwriters.

Last Tuesday afternoon, like millions of other Americans, I parked myself in front of the flat screen to watch live coverage of the indictment and arraignment of former U.S. President Donald J. Trump on criminal charges in New York. In the country’s 250 or so years, he’s the only president so far, serving or former, to have earned so fine a distinction.

My habit at such newsy moments is to switch back and forth among NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and occasionally Fox News to see how coverage varies. But when I tried switching channels this time, the little Roku box in my TV system first flashed up a full-screen schedule grid revealing the names of all the programs that were airing on all the channels.

And when I saw what those programs actually were, their titles all but exploded off the big screen:

“The People’s Court,” “Let’s Make A Deal,” “The Price Is Right,” “Judge Judy,” “Judge Mathis” and most deliciously ironic of all, “Jeopardy!”

Jeopardy, indeed.

The official indictment of Trump released last week by a New York court fills 16 pages with dry legalese descriptions of 34 separate but related incidents.

With their votes on each of those incidents, ordinary New Yorkers who were members of a grand jury in Manhattan accused Trump (consistently called “the defendant” in the indictment) of committing 34 violations of New York State laws that require corporations and comparable entities to keep accurate records of their business activities.

In “Statement of Facts,” a 13-page accompanying document also released by the court last week, New York County District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, Jr., the case’s lead prosecutor, alleged in meticulous detail the operation of an elaborate scheme under Trump’s direction in which business records were instead falsified to conceal secret payments made by Trump personally and/or by his self-branded companies.

The purpose of the secret payments — hundreds of thousands of dollars overall — was to finance actions to prevent information about alleged scandalous behavior by Trump from becoming public and damaging his 2016 campaign for president, which he won. The scheme was hatched shortly after Trump announced his candidacy in mid-2015, and the secret payments continued through 2017, his first year in the White House as president, according to the Statement of Facts.

Such payments would violate New York State laws and federal statutes regulating campaign financing, Bragg explained in a brief press conference after Trump’s arraignment, although those crimes are not part of Trump’s indictment. However, deliberately falsifying business records to hide payments used to illegally affect an election campaign would elevate each of the 34 charges from misdemeanors to felonies. At his arraignment, Trump pleaded “not guilty” to all 34 charges.

However, in a different criminal case decided in December, a jury found two corporate units of the Trump Organization guilty on all 17 counts of a broad assortment of criminal conduct including tax fraud, grand larceny, conspiracy and falsifying business records.

It’s relevant to point out that Trump’s conduct also is being scrutinized in at least four other on-going legal investigations:

  • A federal investigation led by U.S. Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith is examining if Trump violated the law in attempting to overturn the results of the presidential election of November 2020, which he lost. It includes Trump’s actions in the weeks leading up to, during and after the insurrection violence at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
  • Another federal investigation led by Smith is looking into whether Trump committed crimes involving classified documents and possible attempts to obstruct the federal investigation.
  • A criminal investigation by a special grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, (home to Atlanta) involves possible crimes committed by Trump as he tried to get Georgia officials to reverse the state’s presidential results for the 2020 election.
  • A civil lawsuit filed last year by New York State Attorney General Letitia James alleges that Trump submitted fraudulently high values of properties in efforts to defraud lenders and insurers.

To date, Trump has not been convicted of any criminal act. I certainly don’t know whether he’s guilty of any or all of the 34 New York State crimes for which he was indicted and arraigned last week. Right now, he is innocent until proved otherwise.

Deciding his fate in the latest case will be New Yorkers who end up on a jury of Trump’s peers as part of a judicial process that, despite its flaws, is the envy of world. Besides the jury, the process also will include prosecution by lawyers in the office of district attorney Bragg, Trump’s defense by a team of lawyers of his choosing and the supervision of a New York County trial judge.

I won’t guess if Trump’s newly indicted status might affect his current campaign for the Republican nomination for president in 2024. The first primary for that election isn’t until January of next year, and assorted primaries and caucuses will continue for six months after that. The election itself is 19 months away. It should go without saying that a lot can happen between now and then.

Nor will I speculate about how Trump’s recent indictment or possible developments in the other investigations might affect the electoral fates of the scads of Trump rivals for the Republican nomination. These include Nikki Haley (former governor of South Carolina), Asa Hutchinson (former governor of Arkansas), Ron DeSantis (governor of Florida), former Vice-President Mike Pence, Chris Sununu (governor of New Hampshire), Chris Christie (former governor of New Jersey), entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and more.

I will say this, though: The voters of the United States have tolerated wide variations in the individual personalities, behaviors and positions on issues of the people we have elected to public office. There is no more vivid proof of that proposition than Trump’s election to the presidency in 2016, notwithstanding his well-known record in many areas of personal and professional endeavor.

And after he was elected, Trump stayed true to form. To pick just one achievement, during the four years of his presidency from January 2017 through January 2021, Trump made 30,573 false and/or misleading statements, an average of 21 per day, as definitively documented by the Fact Checker team at the Washington Post.

All that said, I remain convinced that the voters of the United States do not want to and will not elect a criminal to be our president, whatever his or her name might be.