Why Does Trump Face Felony Charges? Prosecutors Say He Was Hiding Other Crimes.

Former President Donald J. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, all stemming from accusations that he covered up a $130,000 hush-money payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, to suppress her story of a sexual liaison with him.

Why are they felony charges? Here are the basics.

What is a felony?

A felony is a crime of greater seriousness than a misdemeanor, and conviction of a felony carries the possible penalty of a year or more in prison.

Falsifying business records in New York State can be a misdemeanor, but prosecutors can bring the charge as a felony if they believe the records were falsified to conceal another crime.

Manhattan district attorney Alvin L. Bragg had suggested that Mr. Trump concealed three potential crimes, although he has not charged him with any of those.

Prosecutors do not need to prove such crimes were committed — only that there was “the intent to commit or conceal” an additional crime.

What do the business records show?

The $130,000 payment was made by Mr. Trump’s fixer, Michael D. Cohen, in the final days of the 2016 campaign. Mr. Cohen said he had done so at Mr. Trump’s direction.

While “hush money” payments are not necessarily illegal, Mr. Trump reimbursed Mr. Cohen during his presidency. In internal records, Mr. Trump’s company classified the repayment to Mr. Cohen as legal expenses, citing a retainer agreement. Prosecutors say there were no such expenses or retainer agreement.

The records related to the reimbursement underpin the 34 counts of falsifying business records: 11 counts involve the checks issued to Mr. Cohen, 11 center on monthly invoices Mr. Cohen submitted to the company, and 12 involve entries in the general ledger for Mr. Trump’s trust.

What crimes do prosecutors believe Trump was trying to conceal?

Prosecutors have suggested three possible crimes since filing the charges against Mr. Trump last year: a federal campaign finance violation, tax fraud and a state election-law crime. But since the start of the trial, they have largely focused on the state election-law crime: conspiracy to promote or prevent election.

Prosecutors have framed the falsified documents as concealing a broader conspiracy to protect Mr. Trump’s campaign. They allege that Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen coordinated with the former publisher of The National Enquirer, David Pecker, to bury stories that could damage Mr. Trump’s campaign and promote others that would harm his political rivals.

Mr. Pecker testified about how the tabloid purchased the story of a Playboy model, Karen McDougal, who said she’d had an affair with Mr. Trump, and about how he declined to buy Ms. Daniels’s story and suggested that Mr. Cohen buy it instead.

The Donald Trump Indictment, Annotated

The indictment unveiled in April 2023 centers on a hush-money deal with a porn star, but a related document alleges a broader scheme to protect Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign.

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