BREAKING NEWS: LEGAL TROUBLES FOR REP. GEORGE SANTOS & PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
REP. GEORGE SANTOS IS CHARGED WITH 13 CRIMINAL COUNTS AND FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP IS FOUND LIABLE FOR SEXUAL ABUSE, DEFAMATION
Tonight, we break down the legal troubles facing former President Donald Trump and New York Congressman George Santos. Today, Rep. Santos surrendered himself to authorities at a federal court on Long Island where Justice Department prosecutors charged him with 13-counts of fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds, and lying to Congress. Yesterday, a Manhattan federal jury found former President Trump liable for sexually abusing advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, and they awarded her $5 million in damages for her battery and defamation claims. Joining MetroFocus to discuss both cases is Matthew Galluzzo, a criminal and civil litigator, and a former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Aired on May 10, 2023
Rafael: Good evening.
Welcome to 'MetroFocus.'
I am Jack Ford.
In New York, a federal court civil trial jury yesterday found Former President Donald Trump liable on charges of sexual assault and defamation filed against him by the writer E. Jean Carroll.
Deciding he had engaged in illegal sexual contact.
The jury unanimously decided Mr. Trump should pay a total of $5 million in damages for the claims.
Former President called the verdict 'a disgrace.'
Trump's lawyer vowed to appeal the decision.
In another stunning development, U.S. Representative George Santos has been indicted in a federal case, charging him with 13 criminal counts, including wire fraud, money laundering, and making false statements to Congress.
What led to the Trump verdict?
What is next in that legal saga?
And what is next for Representative Santos?
For some answers, we are delighted to have joining us noted New York trial and appellate attorney Matthew Galluzzo to help guide us through this.
Thank you for joining us.
Matthew: Thank you for having me.
Jack: Let's focus first on the case against Former President Trump.
Then we will talk about the case against Representative Santos.
Looking at the Trump case, many people are going to be surprised by the notion that a case that is this old, this goes back some three decades, that it actually could have been handled now.
What is the answer to that?
Why would a case that is so old be able to proceed today?
Matthew: The New York legislature was aware of a lot of cases.
Sexual assault claims and rape cases that had their statute of limitations that expired.
They passed legislation recently that gave potential plaintiffs a one year window to resurrect expired old cases and file them.
So that anybody who had ever failed to pursue a claim who was still viable had a second chance to bring the claim.
This is the statute that allowed Ms. Carroll to bring the case against Mr. Trump.
Jack: If somebody is paying attention to this, they will hear language that sounds like it was a criminal case.
When you're talking about allegations of rape or sexual assault or sexual contact.
Not defamation, but those other charges.
Explain why this was not a criminal case and what the significant differences are?
Matthew: It was not a criminal case because most of the allegations would have been beyond the statute of limitations.
Because of this one year window of permitting cases to be filed in civil court, that is the big difference why a civil case could proceed and a criminal case could not.
There are two differences between a civil case and criminal case.
In criminal court, we are talking about penalties like jail.
In civil court, we are not, we are talking about money damages.
That is the relief a plaintiff can get.
The standard of proof is different in the two contexts.
In a criminal court, you have to prove somebody guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In civil court, no one is guilty, they are liable.
That is demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence, like 51%, more likely than not, as opposed to higher criminal court standards.
Jack: Some significant differences.
Let's talk about elements of the trial.
There were two witnesses who were allowed to testify on behalf of the plaintiff, E. Jean Carroll, who talked about their own allegations of inappropriate contact and behavior by the Former President.
The question is, if they are not part of this lawsuit, why, then, legally was their testimony allowed in the case?
Matthew: That is a very good question.
It is an issue that is very controversial in this sphere among attorneys.
You are seeing it in some criminal cases nowadays like Harvey Weinstein's case, for example.
There were what we call at the state level Molineux witnesses, people whose testimony is not the basis for a charge.
It provides the motors apparatus of the defendant, something that he does, a way he approaches people.
You saw it in the Bill Cosby case for example.
You are seeing it more and more in a lot of different cases.
The reason why it was permissible in this case, a couple of reasons, one of which is in federal court, in civil sex assault cases, there is a specific role where this testimony is permissible.
A plaintiff can use witnesses to say they were also sexually assaulted by the defendant in a similar manner as part of her case, which is what happened here.
We know there are dozens of women out there who have claimed they have been sexually assaulted by Mr. Trump.
In this case, it was one woman who claims to have been assaulted on an airplane, and another woman who was assaulted at Mar-a-Lago.
They were both allowed to testify pursuant to this specific federal civil sex assault rule.
It is still controversial.
The judge still has to decide, is this evidence more probative, which is insightful, prejudicial, which is to say unfair to the defendant.
You don't want to convict somebody based on their character or their propensity or likelihood to do something.
It is supposed to be based on the evidence.
The federal court rule is that a jury is allowed to consider these other things.
Jack: That is my next question.
Would you anticipate that this would be a significant issue raised on behalf of the former President?
Matthew: It is the best argument he has.
There is no question.
There is nothing else for him to appeal.
This is the only argument he has on appeal.
I think he will probably lose.
But there is a specific rule that says you can use these kind of witnesses and we are only talking two. Not 20.
I think he is going to lose on appeal, but he will try.
Jack: Let me ask you about other elements of the trial.
Mr. Trump chose not to attend.
Again, civil trial, don't have to.
Very different from a criminal case.
Chose not to attend.
The plaintiffs used portions of his deposition that they were able to play in front of the jury.
Talk about -- and this is a hard thing to project, but psychologically, if you are a trial lawyer, if you are in a case such as this, how worried are you about the fact that jurors may say to themselves, Why isn't the defendant even here?
Or if they are saying it never happened, why doesn't the defendant not get on the stand, put their hand on the Bible and say this never happened?
How significant do you think that might have been in the minds of jurors?
Matthew: I tweeted on Twitter last week, if anybody cares to check, to say that a verdict for the plaintiff, in this case, as the evidence was concluding, is the surest bet in the history of jurors.
Not coming in and defending himself under those circumstances, he had 0.0% chance of winning that trial.
It was obvious.
It may have been obvious to him before the trial started that he was not going to win.
I have a feeling that what he really did was rather than go to court and be humiliated by sitting there or testifying and making a fool out of himself, giving the cameras fodder to use against him later, he decided to treat the whole thing with such disdain.
I'm not even going to show.
It is so false, I won't dignify it with my presence.
That was his approach.
At the same time, he was telling this jury, find me liable.
What are they supposed to do under those circumstances?
You didn't prove it?
She sat there and testified and you could not show your face.
This was a done deal before it started.
Jack: Last question for you, and I want to talk about Representative Santos.
As we know, this is a civil trial verdict and has no impact on his ability to run for president of the United States.
People should realize even if someone is convicted of a crime, they can run for president.
Last question is this moves forward, what -- would you think there would be any movement between this verdict now, $5 million, and an appeal, about possibly settling the case?
Do you think it is too emotional on both sides for that to happen?
Matthew: It is conceivable.
Donald Trump could delay things, the payment of his money with appeals.
I suppose there is some outside chance he would prevail with the witnesses, though I think it is very remote.
At the least, he could force their lawyers into a lot of work in defending the appeal.
You could see potentially a reduction to settlement to prevent appeal of happening of 4.5 million, maybe.
Jack: As you said, certainty on both sides.
Matthew: Trump is not bargaining for position strength at all on this matter.
I doubt it.
Jack: I agree.
It's possible, but I would be surprised.
Let's shift our focus to the indictment of Representative George Santos.
Things had been in the works, reportedly, over the last series of months.
People should realize this indictment, as we described, a wide-ranging federal indictment, 13 counts, seven of wire fraud, two of false statements to Congress, one of theft of public funds, apparently has to do with him collecting unemployment insurance at a time when he was not qualified for it.
Very different from the other things we are talking about, which are focusing more on the ideas of fraudulent solicitation for political campaigns, and using the money that he received, allegedly, inappropriately for personal use.
Let's break down some of that, so people can understand.
Why are -- wire fraud, we hear it a lot, but it is a confusing subject.
Give us a working definition of wire fraud.
Matthew: Wire fraud, it is the bread-and-butter charge that federal white-collar prosecutors use more often than any other.
It is the broadest, most all-encompassing federal fraud charge there is.
The fraud aspect is a person has taken somebody's money under false pretenses.
Basically lying to them to get their money.
The wire aspect is using a wire communication system, which nowadays, we know as phones, Internet, email.
Basically it is almost impossible to commit fraud without it being technically a wire fraud.
Yeah, that is what those charges led to.
Jack: As I mentioned, the allegations in the indictment, talking about the fact that they set up an organization, they were soliciting money, and according to allegations, some of that money was being used for personal expenses.
Which according to the allegations, is clearly against the law.
You hear a money laundering charge.
We tend to think drug cartels.
Give us an idea of understanding what that means.
Matthew: Right, you do often hear in that context, but it can be in a white-collar context or a context of fraud.
Generally speaking, you are trying to hide the source of legally obtained money.
Frequently, that involves making bank transactions from one bank to another, hoping people don't keep track of these transactions, change that you can get to a point where you can spend the money from that bank without seeing where it first started.
I think that is what you see in the indictment.
I have not had a chance to look at it, very quickly.
I think we are talking about fraudulently obtained donations through a false political committee or organization, then being rerouted through a number of bank accounts -- bank accounts, until he gets to his personal account, so he can spend it on whatever he wants.
I think that is what the money laundering is talking about.
Jack: It is interesting, you can have a single event which can give rise to multiple types of charges.
I think we are seeing that here.
I mentioned also two counts of false statements to Congress about his financial statements.
Where does this case go now?
What are the next steps that will follow?
Matthew: As we speak right now, I believe he is in custody.
He had to surrender himself this morning into the Eastern District of New York.
I hope he is seeing a judge at some point soon if he has not already.
There will be a not guilty plea on the indictment.
Then there will be discussion as to the conditions of his release, if any.
I assume he will have a bail package to propose.
We will have to get some signers to come in and vouch for him.
After that, it can go a lot of different ways.
Eventually, if he finds a lawyer he likes, he will have a chance to review the discovery, the evidence against him, and maybe he will make motions, maybe he will start plea negotiations.
Jack: It will indeed be interesting.
We have seen political positions being staked out.
Many Democrats and some Republicans have said from the beginning that if something like this happens, he should be out of Congress.
The Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, has said let's let this play out before anything happens.
My last question, legally, being indicted, does that mean you automatically get thrown out of Congress?
Matthew: No. Short answer. No.
Listen, you would think that there would be some shame left in this world, and that if you were to get indicted for something terrible and so related to your job, you may fall on the sword or gracefully bow out.
We don't do that thing anymore apparently.
He will fight it until the end.
He is still allowed to hold on to his office until he goes to jail, perhaps.
We will see.
Jack: Thank you so much.
A lot of going on.
A couple different stories.
You did a marvelous job explaining all of this to us.
We will have you back and talk more as these proceed.
Thank you for your thoughts.
You take care.
Matthew: You too.