UMKC law school professor breaks down Trump indictment

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 10:34 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - A grand jury indictment of former President Donald Trump on Thursday came less than a week after his first campaign rally as part of his next run for president. At the rally in Waco, Texas, he addressed the investigation behind the indictment.

“Investigating me for something that is not a crime, not a misdemeanor, not an affair” is how he described it.

The investigation is connected to payments made to a porn star to keep quiet about an alleged affair.

UMKC Law Professor Allen Rostron points out that it’s hard to judge from just an indictment, because a grand jury proceeding is not only secret but somewhat one-sided. Also, so far, we don’t know what the criminal charge is.

“You’re just showing that there might possibly be sufficient evidence,” Rostron explained. “It’s not that you have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt like you would at a trial. And, it’s not like the defense gets to come in and present all their witnesses and other evidence... It’s just supposed to protect the person, so they don’t get charged when it’s really based on nothing. But, it doesn’t mean that there’s necessarily enough for a conviction.”

He noted it’s not illegal to pay someone to keep quiet. The issue is when it’s alleged to have happened. The timing could make it a crime, even if it was Trump’s own money.

“Because he was running for office, the claim is that this was done to protect him politically. And, therefore, it amounted to campaign spending -- essentially a contribution to his own campaign that wasn’t reported and treated that way,” Rostron articulated.

Whether the D.A. is on a “witch hunt” -- to use Trump’s words -- requires getting in the DA’s mind and seeing the evidence in full, he said.

“It’s not obvious that he’s in the clear and doesn’t face any real risk of a conviction,” Rostron said, “but it’s not obvious that they have a strong case legally or factually.”

He remarked that talking points to the public legal arguments, which are much more technical, often diverge significantly. They are aimed at different audiences for different purposes. So, it is hard to guess from what he is saying on the campaign trail how his legal team will respond to the charges.