Every report on Trump’s trial requires this basic explanation of the charges

Trump at trial.

Journalists writing about Trump’s ongoing trial in New York need to realize something: Not everybody has been following this story as intently as they have.

At the same time, a lot of people may have heard Trump’s constant complaints that the multitudes of charges against him are part of a political witch hunt.

As a result, every reporter in every report on the trial needs to clearly explain the extent of Trump’s alleged crimes. And they need to describe the breadth and the strength of the charges, while also explaining that there was no interference from the Biden administration.

Instead, mainstream reporters have too easily succumbed to shorthand to describe the charges against Trump – calling it a “hush money trial” about “falsifying business records” — and have too casually overused the term “allegation” when much of what happened is not really in question.

I’d like to see a summary paragraph something like this:

Trump is charged with falsifying documents to cover up his frantic efforts to prevent damaging disclosures in the waning days of the 2016 election. Specifically, the charges relate to the October 2016 hush-money payment Trump’s fixer paid a porn star who threatened to disclose their prior sexual relationship. During the federal trial of Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, it was established that Trump ordered Cohen to make the payment then repaid him with checks he recorded as legal expenses, when he was in fact repaying an illegal campaign contribution. Still unclear is whether Trump committed tax fraud by writing the checks off his taxes.

Alternately, a set of bullet points summarizing what we know:

  • Donald Trump reportedly had a sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels in 2006. (Trump denies it.)
  • On October 27, 2016 – 13 days before the presidential election – Trump’s then-fixer Michael Cohen, operating on Trump’s orders, paid Daniels $130,000 to stop her from publicly disclosing their relationship. This was three weeks after the damaging disclosure of the “Access Hollywood” tape, where Trump was heard boasting about groping women.
  • The hush-money payment was part of a broader strategy by Trump to get his allies to keep damaging stories about him under wraps.
  • The payment to Daniels was effectively a campaign expenditure, but it was never disclosed on the Trump campaign’s financial reports.
  • Instead, Trump later repaid Cohen with checks that he falsely reported  as legal expenses.
  • False-records charges are the “bread and butter” of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, says the DA. Biden administration officials had nothing to do with the charging decision.
  • Cohen pled guilty in 2018 to making the payments at Trump’s direction and for the purpose of aiding his campaign. He spent over a year in federal prison.
  • Trump was an unindicted coconspirator in that case, identified as “Individual 1” but not charged. (He was president at the time.).
  • One unknown is whether Trump committed tax fraud by writing off the hush-money payments as legitimate legal expenses.

Some of this information is contained in secondary stories: “What to Know About the Trial Donald Trump Faces in Manhattan” in the New York Times; “Here’s what to know about the hush money case” from the Associated Press; and so on.

But a solid summary of the charges, and an indication of their strength and breadth, needs to be high up in every news story, lest readers believe Trump’s screeds about a witch hunt.

As Aaron Blake noted in a Washington Post news analysis on Monday, an overwhelming majority – more than 70 percent — of both Democrats and Republicans agreed in response to a March 2023 Economist/YouGov that it was “a crime for a candidate for elected office to pay someone to remain silent about an issue that may affect the outcome of an election.”

Blake wrote:

The apparent reason was that Trump supporters didn’t yet understand the context of the question was about Trump — who wasn’t mentioned. They hadn’t tuned in to news about the looming indictment. (Indeed, after Trump was indicted weeks later, the percentage of Republicans who said it would be a crime quickly dropped back below a majority.)

Nevertheless, the point remains that election interference is widely seen as pretty heinous — much more so than simply paying hush money.

In fact, Norman Eisen, who was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first Trump impeachment, argued on CNN.com this morning that the shorthand journalists are using is all wrong:

Although it has long been referred to as the “hush money” case, the judge’s first substantive words to the jury made clear that is wrong. We should call it an “election interference” trial going forward.

When the judge described the case to prospective jurors, he said. “The allegations are in substance, that Donald Trump falsified business records to conceal an agreement with others to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election.”

So the jurors will understand what this trial is all about. Will the public?


  1. Trump is charged with Class E felonies, which are only one step above a misdemeanor, which is probably what he’ll be convicted of. Even if he’s convicted as charged in the indictment, he won’t go to jail. So calm down What we need to put our hopes on is the documents trial, despite the loopy judge hearing the case.

  2. I am glad someone has tried to reframe the description of the Charges of DJT Trial.
    It is so so annoying to have. such a flippant Title for a much more mortifying, Legal case.
    That some people are OK with the self-aggrandizing, useless, harmful man reinhabit the White House?
    I sincerely hope not.
    Thank you.

  3. Excellent. I’d add more context to the end of the first sentence of your proposed summary to properly contextualize this among the frenetic efforts in the waning days of an election *that Trump was widely predicted to lose.* Folks forget that. KA Conway and Priebus were already job hunting in anticipation of the loss. Trump had never been ahead in the polls, but began losing key GOP support after the Hollywood Access tape. That’s why he was particularly intent on keeping his affair with a porn star from the public just as people were considering voting in the election, to stop hemorrhaging support and prevent not just a loss but a particularly embarrassing loss.


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