Does anyone really want to be indicted?
Maybe if your name is Donald Trump, and you’re facing four investigations, three of them for serious abuse of presidential powers and one for using a lousy fix-it lawyer who paid hush money to an alleged mistress.
Which one would you pick to go first? It’s too easy.
I’m not saying what he did was right. Or legal. I’m not an expert on New York bookkeeping laws or business practices. It may well be that Michael Cohen, the liar who Trump relied on to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 campaign, did so in a way that violated state law. But securing a conviction on that basis is bound to be difficult. And doing so obviously gives Trump the opportunity to tell his base that he is the subject of a giant witch hunt by his political opponents, which he has already begun doing.
The fact that he is the subject of far more serious investigations that do go to his abuse of presidential powers — interfering with the 2020 election in Georgia, inciting the riots on Jan. 6, taking and hiding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago — can easily be lost in the overheated rhetoric of his witch hunt story. That should not happen.
Why is this indictment coming first? Politics?
The Manhattan district attorney was criticized internally for not indicting the former president for financial fraud by the Trump Organization.
Did he double down to prove how tough he really was?
The closest precedent for this indictment — and the one that puts Democrats like me in the most awkward position — is the case that was brought against former North Carolina senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, whose payments to a videographer with whom he had an affair were challenged as an illegal campaign contribution. That case ended in a hung jury. I’m no fan of turning the quagmire of election laws into a federal case, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat who is caught in the maze, especially when there are far more serious charges to be brought.
That isn’t to say that what Trump, or Edwards, did was lawful. Obviously, paying off Daniels to go away and be silent helped Trump win the election. Of course, this was after he had already survived his off-color comment about how, as a celebrity, he could get away with grabbing women’s private parts — so there’s no telling what his base would forgive. But clearly he thought Daniels was a problem he needed to hide. But of all the things Trump has done, of all the things he should now be held accountable for, this is at the bottom of my list. And that’s why Alvin Bragg, far from proving himself to be Trump’s greatest nightmare, has proven himself to be, in many respects, Trump’s best hope.
Because, after all, here we are. Talking about Trump. Trump as the center of attention. Trump as the victim. Trump as the man who has been betrayed by his lying lawyer. For a man who likes to whine, what could be better? For a man who like to complain, who yearns to be the center of everything, here it is. Bragg has given him everything he could possibly want.
He is ready for his close-up. How pitiful can you get. What does it say about our politics.
Nothing good is the answer.
Susan Estrich is a USC law professor and Democratic political activist.