How should we interpret the Trump indictment?

On Tuesday in New York, Donald Trump became the first former American president to be indicted. He was accused by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, of orchestrating a hush-money scheme to help him win the presidency and then covering it up once he was in the White House.

Trump pleaded not guilty in the case, which has kept opinion writers and editors on edge for weeks because it was cloaked in a compelling mystery: What is the charge, and how strong is it?

Reports held out the possibility that the case could present a novel or unusual legal theory.

But in a guest essay, Karen Friedman Agnifilo and Norman Eisen write that “there’s nothing novel or weak about this case.” In fact, they write, “The books and records counts laid out in the charging papers against Mr. Trump are the bread and butter of t
he D.A.’s office.”

The creation of phony documentation to cover up campaign finance violations has been repeatedly prosecuted in New York — the type of case they see as having a strong potential for success.

David Firestone, a member of the Times editorial board, was also impressed. He writes that the charges “turned out to be more significant and more sweeping than previously suspected.”

“It’s still not a slam-dunk case,” he admits. But the charges are “hardly novel ones” for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, “which is used to prosecuting business record cases, and are far from the one-off political persecution that Republicans are claiming it to be.”

But the Times columnist Michelle Goldberg had a different reaction.

“For all the hype going into Tuesday, the indictment feels anticlimactic,” she writes. And Trump “may still wriggle out of this predicament.”

The judge ruled that Trump will have to appear in person for a pretrial hearing in December. We have a long time to debate and explore the details to sort out if it is novel or commonplace, strong or piffling.

John Guida