Trump Appointed Judge Canon Shows Her Cards – Trump Too Important To Her To Be Held Accountable

Heather Cox Richardson

The past two days of former president Trump’s criminal trial for falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, to silence her before the 2016 election have been illuminating in different ways.

Yesterday, witnesses established that the paper trail of payments to Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who forwarded the money to Daniels, had been falsified. That paper trail included invoices, checks, and records. Witnesses also established that Trump micromanaged his finances, making it hard to believe he didn’t know about the scheme. 

That scheme looked like this: Former Trump Organization employee Jeffrey McConney said that Trump’s former financial chief Allen Weisselberg, who has gone to jail twice in two years for his participation in Trump’s financial schemes and is there now, told him to send money to Cohen. Cohen had paid Daniels $130,000 from a home equity loan in 2016 to buy her silence about a sexual encounter with Trump. Cohen received 11 checks totaling $420,000 in repayment, including enough money to cover the taxes he would have to pay for claiming the payments as income for legal services, and a bonus. 

Nine of those checks came from Trump’s personal bank account. His team sent the checks to him at the White House for his personal signature. 

A number of observers have suggested that the evidence presented through documents yesterday was not riveting, but historians would disagree. Exhibit 35 was Cohen’s bank statement, on which Weisselberg had written the numbers to reflect the higher payment necessary to cover Cohen’s tax bill for the money. Exhibit 36 was a sheet of paper on which McConney had recorded in his own hand how the payments to Cohen would work. The sheet of paper had the TRUMP logo on it. 

“It’s rare to see folks put the key to a criminal conspiracy in writing,” legal analyst Joyce White Vance wrote in Civil Discourse, “but here it is. It’s great evidence for the prosecution.” 

Today, Daniels took the stand, where she testified about how she had met Trump, he had invited her to dinner but greeted her in silk or satin pajamas, then went on to describe their sexual encounter. The testimony was damaging enough that Trump’s lawyers asked for a mistrial, which Judge Juan Merchan denied, noting that the lawyers had not objected to much of the testimony and must assume at least some responsibility for that. 

The case is not about sex but about business records. But it is hugely significant that the story Daniels told today is the one Trump was determined that voters would not hear before the 2016 election, especially after the “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” statement in the Access Hollywood tape, which was released in early October 2016. While his base appears to be cemented to him now, in 2016 he appeared to think that the story of him having sex with an adult film star while his wife had a four-month old baby at home could cost him dearly at the ballot box. 

The other election-related cases involving Trump indict him for his determination to cling to power after voters had turned him out in 2020. This case, from before he took office, illuminates that his willingness to manipulate election processes was always part of his approach to politics. 

Joyce White Vance is right that it’s rare to see folks put a criminal conspiracy in writing, but it is not unheard of. In our own history, the big ranchers in Johnson County, Wyoming, organized as the Wyoming Stock Growers’ Association, decided in 1892 to clear out the smaller cattlemen pushing their animals onto the federal land and the railroad land the ranchers considered their own. They hired 50 gunmen in Texas to kill their competitors, and they gave them a written list of the men they wanted dead. 

The gunmen killed four of the smaller cattlemen after cornering them in a cabin, but outraged settlers surrounded the gunmen and threatened to hang them all. Local law enforcement sided with the small cattlemen, and the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association appealed to the governor for help in restoring order. The governor, in turn, appealed to President Benjamin Harrison, who sent troops to rescue the stock growers’ men from the angry settlers and lawmen. The expense of keeping the stock growers’ men imprisoned nearly broke the state.

Witnesses became mum, and the cases against the Texas gunmen fell apart. The stock growers had first intimidated and then killed those who tried to challenge their monopoly on the Wyoming cattle industry. Then, thwarted by local lawmen, they called in the federal government, and those stock growers involved in the Johnson County War actually got away with murder.

This evening, Judge Aileen Cannon vacated the May 20, 2024, trial date for the criminal case of Trump’s retention of classified documents and declined to set a new date. With so many remaining issues unresolved, she wrote, it would be “imprudent” to set a new trial date. 

This is the case in which the U.S. government accuses Trump of retaining hundreds of classified documents that compromised the work of the Central Intelligence Agency, which provides intelligence on foreign countries and global issues; the Department of Defense, which provides military forces to ensure national security; the National Security Agency, which collects intelligence from communications and information systems; the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which provides intelligence from imagery; the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates satellites and reconnaissance systems; the Department of Energy, which manages nuclear weapons; and the Department of State, including the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which provides intelligence to U.S. diplomats. 

These are the documents the Federal Bureau of Investigation later recovered from Mar-a-Lago, where they were stored in public spaces, including a bathroom, after Trump first retained them, then denied he had them, and then tried to hide them. 

The U.S. government charges that “[t]he classified documents TRUMP stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack. The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.” 

Today, Trump’s trial for his retention of these classified documents is indefinitely postponed.

Trump appointed Cannon to the bench, and the Senate confirmed her after he lost the 2020 presidential election. She has seemed to be in no hurry to bring the case to trial before the 2024 election, a case that, if he is reelected, Trump will almost certainly quash. 

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