Thirty-four bookkeeping errors. That’s how the news has described the indictments of Donald Trump by a Manhattan District Attorney.
“It’s a political attack.” “A witch hunt.” That’s what MAGA world – and most Republicans – would have you believe.
Even some Democrats complain that a case about misfiled reports and sex with an adult actress shouldn’t be first in the barrage of indictments and civil suits Trump is expected to face in 2023 and 2024. “This is the first criminal indictment of a former President. It has to be spot on,” they say.
Moreover, the other ongoing criminal investigations – incitement of the January 6 insurrection, the Mar-a-Lago classified documents, and pressuring Georgia officials to “find” 11,780 votes – seem more salient and central to the future of our democracy. And, for many reasons, they are.
But, in one key way, the Manhattan indictments are the most important. Huh? What? Just wait. We’ll get there. First, let’s review a bit of the timeline.
In August 2015, a meeting took place between Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney and ‘fixer,’ David Pecker, Chairman and CEO of American Media, Inc, which operates the National Inquirer, and “Individual-1, aka Trump. In this meeting, the three created the now-infamous ‘catch and kill’ scheme, where Pecker would “help deal with negative stories” about Trump’s relationships with women by “among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”
But they missed a big one. On October 7, 2016, the shocking “Access Hollywood” tape splashed into public view with Donald Trump insisting he could grope women simply because he was a “star.” His outrageous ‘performance’ caused a furor in the media and around the nation. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing Trump’s vile comments.
Millions across the country were incensed that the Republican candidate would behave so grotesquely toward women. It was so bad that Trump, never known for admitting that he could possibly do anything wrong, actually apologized. It even terrified the most senior GOP leaders. Reince Priebus, Chair of the Republican National Committee, thought Trump’s candidacy was doomed.
But, as we all know, that’s not what happened.
On that very day, October 7, 2016, another bombshell dropped on the presidential election. WikiLeaks posted several thousand emails stolen by Russian hackers, including many from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. According to Politico, “the late-Friday release came almost immediately after a devastating tape emerged of Donald Trump in 2005 talking about how being “a star” entitled him to make aggressive sexual advances on women, fueling speculation that WikiLeaks is trying to tip the balance of the election.” According to the Mueller report, the Trump “campaign was aware of WikiLeaks’ possession of compromising information on Clinton…” and “was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks.”
Whether coordinated between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks or not, the thousands of emails took the focus off Trump’s disgusting behavior in the Access Hollywood tape and led directly to several days of ‘hair on fire’ TV and newspaper stories about Hillary Clinton and her emails. Yeah… Remember that?
And then…just as the email coverage began to recede…the panic reemerged. On October 28, a mere eleven days before the election, then-FBI Director James Comey wrote to Congress that he had “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation” into Clinton’s use of a private email server. There has subsequently been widespread criticism of Comey’s action coming so close to election day, and many experts believe that the letter likely cost Hillary the election.
**But maybe it didn’t have to.**
Hold on there. Whoa! What are you talking about? First, a lot of people don’t agree that Comey caused Clinton to lose the election. Second? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!?!
Ok, here’s where the 34 Manhattan “bookkeeping error” “indictments come in and why Stormy Daniels is so important. The $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels was wired to Daniels’ attorney on October 27, 2016 and the paperwork was signed on October 28.
Wait! I thought you said that Comey wrote his letter on October 28, 2016? Yep. I did. Both happened on the same day!
In other words — and pay attention here — without the payment, Stormy Daniels might have told the country about her affair with Donald Trump late in the campaign, even possibly in the few critical remaining days before the election. Daniels says she had been threatened if she talked about her affair with Trump and was terrified for herself and her family. But she concluded that speaking publicly and getting her account into the open would protect her.
But Daniels kept quiet, and Trump’s hush money plan worked. With $130,000 of ‘hush money’ in hand: “The deal was not just financially advantageous for Daniels. It was exactly what she had always wanted: to protect herself, protect her daughter, and shield her husband, who struggled with his mental health, from the truth.”
Remember: The outrage over Trump’s Access Hollywood horror show, which the country learned about less than three weeks earlier, was still simmering just beneath the surface. People hadn’t forgotten, but other factors had overtaken the story.
Here’s the point: What would voters have done if, in the wake of Access Hollywood, they found out so close to election day that Trump had an affair with Daniels, a famous adult actress – and that tryst occurred just four months after Melania Trump gave birth to their son.
The answer is that we’ll never know. But, it’s more than possible that had the American people found out about Trump’s affair with Daniels shortly before the election, it might have pushed the needle just enough to move a percent or two of voters to move back to Hillary Clinton. Considering that Trump’s margin of victory in the closest states was less than 1%, the chance of it changing the outcome of the election was real. Again, we’ll never know.
But we do know those ‘catch and kill’ payments were made to affect the election and most likely did. That’s why otherwise lesser misdemeanor filing errors do, in fact, matter.
So, when I hear the 34 Manhattan indictments described as mere bookkeeping issues, I know that’s wrong. I know they’re more than that…way more than that. I know they’re central to Trump’s pattern of corrupt election-related behavior because these “bookkeeping” errors are, at their core, the heart of a scheme which may have changed the course of the 2016 election and, with that, the future of the country.