For many pundits in the mainstream media, this week was monumental. They had worked long and hard to prepare their soundbites for the day that Donald Trump may find himself indicted by the Manhattan DA, (or the DOJ, or Fulton County, Georgia), and they seemed to be tripping over one another in an attempt to feel important in the moment.
And sure, this is unprecedented, and that’s the sort of thing that always seems to get infotainment personalities in a tizzy.
But was this all for naught? Is the case against Trump going anywhere at all? No one can say for sure.
To make matters even more uncertain, there are now concerns about the judge in the case and his political donations to the Democratic Party.
Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing former President Donald Trump’s case in Manhattan, violated New York’s Code of Judicial Conduct by making three donations to Democrats in 2020, which could be grounds for an ethics investigation, according to several legal experts and former prosecutors.
Under Section 100.5 of the New York Code of Judicial Conduct, sitting judges cannot “directly or indirectly engage in any political activity.” Prohibited political activity includes “(h) soliciting funds for, paying an assessment to, or making a contribution to a political organization or candidate.”
The New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics’s yearly-updated handbook makes this clear, stating:
A sitting judge may not make political contributions at any time, even to a U.S. presidential candidate or to a federal congressional candidate outside of New York State (Opinion 11-146; 22 NYCRR 100.5[A][h]).
Furthermore, the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct states that unless permitted by law, a judge shall not “solicit funds for, pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization or a candidate for public office.”
Here is where things get sticky:
However, Merchan — a New York state judge — made three political donations in 2020, according to public Federal Election Commission records.
According to the FEC records, Merchan donated $15.00 to Biden for President — the campaign of Trump’s opponent, on July 26, 2020, via ActBlue.
On July 27, 2020, he donated $10.00 to Progressive Turnout Project, an organization dedicated to turning out Democrat voters, and $10.00 to Stop Republicans, a part of Progressive Turnout Project “dedicated to resisting the Republican Party and Donald Trump’s radical right-wing legacy,” also via ActBlue.
The law is clear here.
According to Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert and law professor at New York University, such donations are forbidden.
“The contribution to Biden and possibly the one to ‘Stop Republicans’ would be forbidden unless there is some other explanation that would allow them,” Gillers told CNN on Thursday.
The news will almost certainly instigate an investigation into Merchan’s political support of Trump’s opposition, and could see the case itself radically transformed.
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