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Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Trump, who appeared in person before a Manhattan judge to hear the charges against him, said at a rally in Florida later that night that he had done nothing wrong, and spoke to supporters about his run for the White House in 2024 .
PBS NewsHour Digital Correspondent Nicole Ellis spoke with Jeffrey Bellin with William and Mary Law School to break down what the indictment by a Manhattan grand jury means and where it goes from here.
At his Mar-a-Lago resort Tuesday night, Trump repeated that there is “no case,” and alleged that Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, Judge Juan M. Merchan and their spouses were “Trump-hating” bad actors with political motives. Many of Trump’s GOP allies and adversaries echoed those sentiments, rushing to defend the former president following the indictment.
READ MORE: Read all of the charges against Trump in the New York hush-money case
From a legal perspective, Bellin said it is important to remember that “there’s a lot more information than people can see from the outside.” Using himself as an example, he said ”the defense attorneys know a lot more about the case and the prosecutor’s office knows a lot more about the case than I do.”
What we do know is that more information will become available as the legal system proceeds. In this case, like many others, Bellin said, “we have to wait and see what type of legal defenses that Trump will make to the claim.”
In the meantime, Bellin points out that politicians who are either “rushing to Trump’s defense or rushing to condemn him are saying more about themselves than about the actual legal case.”
As accusations of political motivations fly, Bellin said it’s important to remember there are systems in place to prevent politics from interfering with legal process, and you can see that exemplified in this case thus far.
Prosecutors do not consider themselves political actors and it would be a violation of the standard for prosecutor behavior if their actions were politically motivated, Bellin said.
“Institutionally, the grand jury is supposed to function to check prosecutors who are doing things that are wrong. And so that’s why the prosecutor is supposed to present evidence of a crime to the grand jury. And then the grand jury is the ones who voted to decide, yes, this case can go forward,” explained Bellin. He added, “the judge will be weighing in on whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with this case” as it continues to unfold in court.
Bellin said part of where the case goes from here will depend on Trump’s legal response.
For instance, “the suggestion that the trial can’t be fair in Manhattan. And so one of the motions I’ll be looking for is: Does the Trump legal team try to move the trial somewhere else that he thinks the jury pool might be more open to his arguments or something like that?” Bellin said, noting that those kinds of requests are “very rarely granted.”
The other thing to watch: whether Trump’s team files legal challenges to the district attorney’s reasoning for filing the counts against Trump as felonies instead of misdemeanors.
As of now, Bellin says from a legal standpoint the charges against Trump will probably not affect his presidential campaign in 2024. However, “If things start to change, like threats to people involved, threats to the judge, disruptive behavior that impacts the case,” the judge has the power to impose restrictions on defendants, which in this case, could limit Trump’s ability to campaign.
Nicole Ellis is PBS NewsHour's digital anchor where she hosts pre- and post-shows and breaking news live streams on digital platforms and serves as a correspondent for the nightly broadcast. Ellis joined the NewsHour from The Washington Post, where she was an Emmy nominated on-air reporter and anchor covering social issues and breaking news. In this role, she hosted, produced, and directed original documentaries and breaking news videos for The Post’s website, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Facebook and Twitch, earning a National Outstanding Breaking News Emmy Nomination for her coverage of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Ellis created and hosted The Post’s first original documentary series, “Should I freeze my eggs?,” in which she explores her own fertility and received the 2019 Digiday Publishers Award. She also created and hosted the Webby Award-winning news literacy series “The New Normal,” the most viewed video series in the history of The Washington Post’s women’s vertical, The Lily.
She is the author of “We Go High,” a non-fiction self-help-by-proxy book on overcoming adversity publishing in 2022, and host of Critical Conversations on BookClub, an author-led book club platform.
Prior to that, Ellis was a part of the production team for the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series, CNN Heroes. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Human Rights from Columbia University, as well as a Master’s in Journalism from Columbia Journalism School.
Casey is a producer for NewsHour's digital video team. She has won several awards for her work in broadcast journalism, including a national Edward R. Murrow award.
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