Jonathan Turley: Trump has path to take upper hand in hush money trial

By Sarah May on
 April 14, 2024

The first of Donald Trump's criminal cases is poised to go to trial starting on Monday, and according to one legal expert, there is a legal maneuver the former president may wish to consider, despite its admitted drawbacks.

According to Fox News contributor Jonathan Turley, Trump may want to give his defense lawyers the greenlight to file a frequently used motion that would significantly reduce the stakes in the so-called “hush money” case involving payments made to adult entertainer Stormy Daniels, as the network reports.

Trump card available?

The trial involves accusations that Trump falsified company records as a means to disguise payments made to his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen.

The lawyer in turn paid Daniels to quash claims of an alleged extramarital affair, a liaison the former president has long denied.

Turley, himself a professor at George Washington University Law School, explained the former president's potential option during a Friday appearance on Fox & Friends.

The constitutional scholar explained that Trump, though he might find the idea personally problematic, may be well advised to pursue a strategy involving the possibility of a guilty finding on a less serious offense than the top charge leveled against him.

Turley discussed “a fairly standard motion that occurs when you believe that the jury may not agree that the big-ticket item of a charge, the felonies, is proven, and you want the court to give an instruction saying you can always convict on a lesser included offense – in this case, a misdemeanor.”

Potentially “significant” advantage

In his discussion of the aforementioned strategy involving conviction on a lesser included offense, Turley added, “Now, sometimes the defense doesn't want to do that. Sometimes they just want to leave the jury with the cliff option, thinking that they don't want to go over the cliff so they'll go ahead and acquit.”

“But many times,” he added, “this works in favor of the defense.”

Noting that the former president may be reluctant to accept such a scenario, Turley went on, “For Trump, there could be personal resistance to even suggesting a possible misdemeanor conviction, but politically and legally, it would be a very significant advantage for him.”

All eyes on Manhattan

As the trial is set to begin Monday, Trump will be forced off the campaign trail for what could be a period of weeks, a circumstance he has decried as akin to election interference.

In this case, Trump is facing 34 felony counts, which carry the possibility of four years in prison, though it is far from certain that he would ever face time behind bars if convicted, due to his lack of prior offenses.

To secure a felony conviction, prosecutors are required to demonstrate not just that Trump falsified business records, but did so with the intent to commit a second crime, which observers assume involved campaign finance and/or tax offenses, though District Attorney Alvin Bragg has yet to specify whether that is the case.

Jury selection is slated to commence on Monday but given that many legal experts believe this to be the weakest of all the cases brought against Trump over the past year, the proceedings and ultimate outcome will surely be the subject of much analysis and debate going forward.

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