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The Trump Trial Is Disturbing on So Many Levels

I can’t remember when I’ve been more disturbed by a criminal trial than I have been by the Manhattan trial of Donald Trump. The prosecutors are painting a vivid picture of Trump as a vile and dishonest person, and the daily pilgrimages of Republican politicians to the Manhattan courthouse, in spite of horrific testimony against Trump, demonstrates that the party has a broken soul.

At the same time, the underlying legal theory supporting the prosecution’s case remains dubious. The facts may be clear, but the law is anything but — and that could very well mean that the jury convicts Trump before the election, an appeals court reverses the conviction after the election, and millions of Americans, many of them non-MAGA, face yet another crisis of confidence in American institutions.

Let’s first discuss the dreadful facts. Stormy Daniels’s testimony crystallized, better than that of any other witness, the prosecution’s theory that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to pay off Daniels to save his campaign and then fraudulently disguised the reimbursements. It helped answer a key question: Why would a known playboy, a person who has boasted of his affairs with his friends’ wives, suddenly be so keen to suppress details of his encounter with a porn star?

Consider the timeline. On Oct. 7, 2016, the “Access Hollywood” story broke. The Washington Post released the infamous recording in which Trump told Billy Bush, one of the show’s hosts, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Trump went on, saying he could grab women by the genitals. “You can do anything.”

The next day, a representative for Daniels told The National Enquirer that Daniels was willing to talk on the record about her encounter with Trump. We now know from Daniels’s sworn testimony that her story was going to essentially affirm the “Access Hollywood” tape. Trump used his star power to draw in Daniels and then exploited her.

At trial, she did not testify to a frivolous or joyful encounter with Trump; she testified to something far more distressing. He invited her to his hotel room, and after she went to the bathroom, she walked out to find Trump on the bed in just his boxers and a T-shirt. She did not claim he forced himself on her, but she said she left “shaking” and testified that she was ashamed.

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