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NY v Trump has ‘reasonable doubt’ written all over it. But with Bragg, Merchan antics, outcome is unknowable

Incorruptibility may be rare, but it is sadly absent inside this Manhattan courtroom.

Photo by Mark Peterson - Pool/Getty Images

Anyone can be falsely accused of a crime. Vindication relies on the right to a fair trial.

Regrettably, the Manhattan trial of former President Donald Trump bears no resemblance to that cherished constitutional promise. Almost nothing during this five-week trial can be described as remotely fair.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s absurd case made a mockery of our legal system. Judge Juan Merchan compounded the injustice by dismantling the principles of due process that every defendant deserves. His rulings from the bench consistently favored the prosecution and foreclosed Trump’s lawyers from presenting a bona fide defense that would be permitted in any other courtroom.

Working in tandem, Bragg and Merchan proved they have little respect for the rule of law or the rights of the accused. This is not an impartial tribunal. It’s an Orwellian show trial with a preordained outcome. There’s no presumption of innocence, only the expectation of guilt.

The impact of this case stretches well beyond the verdict, whatever it may be. Incalculable damage has been inflicted on a once-respected institution, our judiciary. The corrupt actions of the prosecutor and the transparent prejudice of the judge constitute moral failings that will inevitably breed cynicism about democratic government.

The anti-Trump bias of Merchan is particularly insidious. It was on full display when the defense called to the stand, Robert Costello, who once served as an attorney for the D.A.’s star witness, Michael Cohen. Recall that the judge allowed both Cohen and another prosecution witness, ex-porn star Stormy Daniels, unfettered latitude to trash Trump in court. Gratuitous, sordid details and rank speculation meant to prejudice the jury were eagerly welcomed by Merchan.

But when Costello was sworn in and began to accurately portray his former client as a con artist who lied to the jury about the pivotal issues in the case, the judge shut him down faster than a New York minute. Whereas Cohen and Daniels were given free rein to inveigh against Trump with endless narratives, Costello was muffled by the judge who all but stuffed a sock in his mouth.

In one ignominious moment, Merchan became so unhinged that he threatened to jail the witness for looking at him the wrong way. “Are you staring me down right now?,” fumed the egomaniacal judge. It was so melodramatic that even your average thug would blush with embarrassment.

Without limits, Cohen was empowered by the judge to misinterpret federal campaign laws over which he has no knowledge or expertise. He repeatedly informed the jury that payments to Daniels broke the law. But Merchan would not permit the defense to call a qualified expert —the former head of the Federal Election Commission— to properly explain to the jury the true meaning of election statutes and how Daniel’s non-disclosure agreement did not qualify as an unlawful campaign contribution.

Apparently, Merchan has never bothered to read the rules of evidence in New York (Rule 7.01). An expert can not be precluded from offering an opinion on an ultimate issue in the case if it is beyond the knowledge of the jury and would help them. Here, the campaign finance statutes are so complex and convoluted that they border on the incomprehensible.

Without the expert’s testimony, jurors will now be left to make an uninformed guess. Which is precisely what Bragg and Merchan are counting on.

Throughout the trial, the judge enabled the prosecution to conceal the so-called “mysterious crime” that somehow elevates an expired misdemeanor into felonious conduct. So, here we are at the end of the trial, both sides have rested their respective cases, and closing arguments are set to begin next Tuesday. Yet, we are no closer to understanding what underlying crime Trump supposedly committed. It’s a farce.

No capable or impartial judge would have permitted such an egregious violation of the Sixth Amendment. Every defendant has the fundamental right “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation” against him. But Bragg never abided by that constitutional guarantee. Even worse, Merchan let him get away with it —the same way he allowed his local court to be misused to enforce a federal law over which he has no authority or jurisdiction.

All of this is consistent with a judge who brazenly violated Trump’s free speech rights by preventing him from commenting on Cohen while the latter trashed the accused on social media during the pendency of the trial. Trump was gagged but Cohen was not. Try to make sense of that. You can’t.

Merchan was not about to tolerate objectivity or sanction fairness in his fiefdom. The concept of a level playing field was relegated to a bad joke. Instead, Bragg and Merchan colluded to poison the trial by indoctrinating the jury with false information and phony testimony. At every turn, they attempted to brainwash the panel into believing that criminal activity was afoot despite evidence to the contrary.

In reality, none of the essential elements of the alleged crimes in the indictment have been met by prosecutors. There is no credible evidence that Trump engineered or even knew about booking entries by accountants that were not false at all. Nor is there any plausible evidence that he willfully violated campaign laws that were not violations at all. Where is the fraud that prosecutors argued in their opening statement? Like Bigfoot, it’s a fictitious missing link in the case.

This has always been a trial in search of an imaginary crime and a disgraceful charade.

This case has reasonable doubt written all over it. But the jury has been fed a litany of lies and deceptions by District Attorney Alvin Bragg that were endorsed by presiding Judge Juan Merchan. Together, they have trampled on the rights of the accused through the tyranny of mendacity and unchecked power.

This is exactly what American statesman, Sen. J. William Fulbright, so memorably warned about when he said, “When public men indulge themselves in abuse, when they deny others a fair trial, when they resort to innuendo and insinuation, to libel, scandal, and suspicion, then our democratic society is outraged, and democracy is baffled.”

Fulbright was not prescient. He knew through experience that unscrupulous men imbued with unbridled power are capable of uncommon acts of corruption. Only strength of character can withstand the temptation.

Incorruptibility may be rare, but it is sadly absent inside this Manhattan courtroom.