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Is Donald Trump Really Headed to Jail?

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore. Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona.
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix, Arizona.

How might Donald Trump defend himself in the Stormy Daniels case? After a more than five-year investigation, Donald Trump may soon be charged with a crime in relation to his alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. Here’s how he might defend himself. 

Donald Trump Is Headed for a Legal Fight 

Donald Trump has never been indicted, but with four different investigations closing in, it may only be a matter of time. One of those investigations, from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, is said to be looking into Trump’s alleged hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006. 

Last week, the New York Times reported that prosecutors had signaled that criminal charges were likely for Trump in that case, in what would mark the first-ever criminal indictment of a former president of the United States, and also a rare indictment of any active presidential candidate. Trump this week was invited to appear before the grand jury, but declined to do so, his lawyers said. 

It’s not clear exactly which crime Trump might be charged with, but it may very well involve either falsifying business records or campaign finance violations. 

If Trump is indicted, how will defend himself? A Vice report looked at that question this week. 

Per that report, Trump’s team will likely argue that the payment to Daniels, shortly before the 2016 race, was not because of the election, but rather because Trump wanted to protect his marriage. In this version of events, Trump did not actually have an affair with Daniels but was instead dealing with a false accusation. 

The payment was arranged by Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen, who later broke with Trump, spent time in prison, and launched a book and podcast on the topic of his service to the former president. Cohen has said in the past that Trump asked him to lie directly to Melania Trump about the payment. The since-disbarred lawyer has appeared before the grand jury this week, although his credibility as a witness may be challenged, since he has pled guilty in the past to multiple crimes, including lying to Congress. 

“It’s not directly related to the campaign,” Joe Tacopina, a Trump attorney, said this week on “Good Morning America.” “He made this with personal funds to prevent something coming out [that was] false but embarrassing to himself, his family, his young son.” 

Trump Denies It 

Trump has denied having an affair with Stormy Daniels, although, in a way that’s reminiscent of former President Bill Clinton, he has been precise in his language. Daniels, who has spoken at length and in detail about the alleged coupling in her book as well as in interviews over the years, has said that she had sex with the former president only once, rather than an ongoing affair. The alleged incident in 2006 took place shortly after Trump married Melania Trump, and not long after his youngest son was born. 

The Vice report added that Trump’s attorneys have told him in the past that “he could plausibly argue that having affairs with women and then paying them hush money was just his normal mode of living life.” But Trump has been slow to admit that. 

“Trump’s best strategy would be to say that he routinely paid off women and that the purpose of paying them was to avoid the embarrassment it would cause for his wife and the rest of his family,”  the former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told Law & Crime in 2018. 

Also, some of the potential crimes, whether they entail misuse of campaign funds or of money or accounts belonging to the Trump Organization, don’t necessarily hinge on whether or not the Trump/Daniels affair allegation is true. 

“The DA is going to have to prove that the payment was in furtherance of the campaign and that Trump did have criminal intent,” election lawyer Jerry Goldfeder told Vice. 

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Expertise and Experience

 Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist, essayist, and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review, and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.