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Trump Lawyer Vows Vigorous Defense in Hush Money Criminal Case

Former U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he sits in the rear of his limousine departing Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 2, 2023.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he sits in the rear of his limousine departing Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 2, 2023.

The lawyer for former U.S. President Donald Trump pledged Sunday to mount a vigorous defense against allegations that he paid $130,000 in hush money to a porn star to boost his election chances in 2016 to keep her from talking about her claim that she had a one-night tryst with Trump a decade before.

Defense lawyer Joe Tacopina told CNN’s “State of the Union” show that the payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels was a “personal expenditure, not a campaign expenditure.” Trump has long denied the porn star’s allegation they had an affair but acknowledged the payment to her just ahead of his defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

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Tacopina assailed New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg for getting a grand jury last Thursday to charge Trump in connection with the payment, saying that had Trump “not been running for president [in 2024], he would not have been indicted.”

“We will loudly and proudly say not guilty” when the former president is arraigned in the case in New York State Supreme Court on Tuesday, Tacopina said.

But the defense lawyer said he would not immediately ask that the case be dismissed. “No, that would be showmanship,” he said.

FILE - Lawyer Joseph Tacopina speaks during a news conference in Schoharie, New York, Sept. 2, 2021.
FILE - Lawyer Joseph Tacopina speaks during a news conference in Schoharie, New York, Sept. 2, 2021.

Tacopina, however, contended that “no law fits” the basic allegations in the case, and that the federal government decided to not bring charges against Trump, although Bragg, a state prosecutor, proceeded.

“A state prosecutor has somehow tried to make this a felony,” Tacopina said.

The defense lawyer criticized the state’s key witness in the case, Michael Cohen, Trump’s one-time personal attorney and political fixer. Tacopina called Cohen, who made the payment to the porn actress and then was reimbursed by Trump, “a pathological, convicted liar who is continually unable to tell the same story twice.”

Cohen was convicted of several offenses in connection with the payment to Daniels and served more than a year in prison.

Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, also spoke with CNN on Sunday.

Davis said Cohen, while pleading guilty in the case, “lied for Donald Trump for 10 years,” and has now provided prosecutors a vast set of documents showing how the payment to the porn actress played out with the consent of Trump and subsequent reimbursement of Cohen.

The payments to Cohen were listed on Trump company records as payment to Cohen for legal fees. But U.S. news accounts of the investigation say the payments were to keep Daniels’ allegations of the affair out of the news in the weeks before the 2016 election. The Wall Street Journal first broke news of the hush money payment in early 2018.

In the charging allegations against Cohen, the government stated that the payment to Daniels was at the direction of “Individual 1,” which the government acknowledged was Trump.

Trump is the first U.S. president, in office or after leaving the White House, to be criminally charged in an indictment. Officials familiar with the case say the grand jury is alleging more than 30 counts of criminal misconduct, but the indictment is under seal, not yet publicly disclosed, and won’t be divulged until Trump appears in court.

Trump, who lives much of the year at Mar-a-Lago, his oceanside retreat in Florida, is flying to New York on Monday and then, as he turns himself in at the courthouse on Tuesday, is likely to be fingerprinted and have his mugshot taken before appearing in court before Judge Juan Merchan.

Trump's office says he is expected to deliver remarks at Mar-a-Lago late Tuesday.

Trump’s Secret Service detail, courthouse officials and New York City police have been meeting since the indictment was announced to plan for Trump’s appearance at the courthouse, which corridors he will walk through and what nearby streets will be blocked off and parking prohibited.

Trump, long accustomed to unleashing attacks on political foes, has criticized Bragg for bringing what he describes as a “witch hunt case,” and characterized the Black prosecutor as an “animal” and a “racist.” Even before his court appearance, Trump has also assailed the judge, misspelled his name in a social media post as “Marchan,” and claimed that he “hates me.”

Merchan earlier this year fined subsidiaries of Trump’s real estate empire, the Trump Organization, $1.6 million in connection with what prosecutors alleged was a 15-year tax fraud scheme to help the company evade a bigger tax bill and imprisoned Trump’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, for five months.

After learning of his own indictment in the hush money case and that Merchan had been randomly assigned to oversee it, Trump claimed on his Truth Social site that the judge had “railroaded” Weisselberg to plead guilty in the case and had “treated my companies, which didn’t 'plead,' VICIOUSLY.”

Former New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. told NBC's "Meet the Press" show, "I've got to say that I was disturbed to hear the former president speak in the way he spoke about the District Attorney Bragg, and even the trial court [judge] in the past week.”

“And I think if I were [Trump’s] lawyer, and believe me, no one has called up to ask for my advice,” Vance added, “I would be mindful of not committing some other criminal offense, like obstruction of governmental administration, which is interfering by threat or otherwise, the operation of government. And I think that could take what perhaps we think is not the strongest case, when you add a count like that, put it in front of a jury.”

Many Republican politicians have rallied behind Trump, not by discussing the specifics of the hush money payment to Daniels, but rather by taking aim at Bragg, a Democrat, for securing the indictment. Democrats have generally said that Trump is presumed innocent unless proven guilty and that he will have his day in court to answer the charges.

Trump is facing other serious criminal investigations related to his efforts to upend his 2020 reelection loss to Democrat Joe Biden, urging supporters in January 2021 to try to block Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote showing Biden had won and his retention of classified documents at his Florida estate even though he was required to turn them over to the National Archives when he left office two years ago.