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The Trump indictment remains under seal so there is a lot we don't know

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Now let's turn to Matthew Galluzzo. He's a former prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office. Matthew, good morning.

MATTHEW GALLUZZO: Good morning.

PFEIFFER: If you had been in the position to advise the prosecutors who've brought this case - and maybe you were - would you have recommended they do this?

GALLUZZO: Well, I most certainly was not. I'll start by saying that. But if I had been - listen; I don't know what exactly the evidence is in this case against Mr. Trump. But if the evidence of a crime was there, then I think the rule of law has to prevail. And you shouldn't be afraid to prosecute somebody just because of their political position.

PFEIFFER: Although this case obviously has legal implications, it also has enormous political implications, you know, among them, it could help Trump politically, which may not be what prosecutors wanted. It could fire up his supporters. How much, if at all, do prosecutors take factors like that into account when deciding whether to bring charges?

GALLUZZO: Well, they probably do, although they probably wouldn't admit it. I have to imagine that these sort of political considerations are at the forefront of their minds when they bring a case like this. But at the same time, you know, they're duty bound to prosecute crimes when they see them or when the evidence is there. And so, hopefully, that's the reason why they're doing it.

PFEIFFER: Well, you say duty bound. But the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who brought the indictment, has previously declined to bring charges against the former president. I mean, maybe he just didn't feel they were strong enough. But from what you can tell, why not bring charges forward in other cases but bring them forward with this one?

GALLUZZO: Well, presumably it comes down to the details of the evidence, that in this case, he feels like the evidence supports the prosecution. In the other case, it didn't. Hopefully, that's the reason why and it's not something bigger than that. It's not just, you know, what's on the wind politically. But hopefully, it has to do with the details of the evidence.

PFEIFFER: Trump has called the indictment politically motivated. He says, as he said many times before, that this is a witch hunt. He says it could backfire politically. I'm wondering, though, if you also could potentially see the indictment backfiring legally. And I'm thinking that I read this morning, among other things, that this is New York state law, but it involves federal campaign finance law. So is there a chance that legally, it ends up weak, and it could fall apart for legal reasons?

GALLUZZO: Yeah, the big question I think a lot of people, a lot of lawyers, have looking at this indictment is whether or not it's really legally possible under New York state law and under the law we think he's being charged with - this falsification of business records, felony - to prosecute somebody for an intent to commit a federal crime in state court. And the idea being that he falsified business records to violate federal campaign finance laws. There's obviously been no precedent for that. There's not a whole lot of precedent for charging somebody with falsifying business records to violate a federal law. But I'm going to give the prosecutors the benefit of the doubt and assume that they've done their homework on this subject. They feel like they're on strong footing as far as that being legally possible. But there's no question that it's going to be heavily debated between the prosecutor and the defense attorney throughout the course of this case.

PFEIFFER: Right. They would certainly have scrutinized the legal aspects of it very closely...

GALLUZZO: We hope so.

PFEIFFER: ...Before making that move.

GALLUZZO: Sure.

PFEIFFER: To you, do you believe that the case on its merits - and acknowledging here that we don't quite know all the details. Do you think it's likely to secure a conviction? Do you feel that you know enough about it to gauge that?

GALLUZZO: Well, you're - it's a little bit like asking me if I like a movie based on having watched the trailer because I really don't know what all the evidence is. And I'm not sure what was said behind the closed doors of the grand jury and what these witnesses know. So it's tough for me to handicap it. I'll say one thing. A lot of people are, you know, looking at this purely from the perspective of, what is the evidence? And what are the potential problems with the witnesses? And that's fine. But I think if you're really a knowledgeable trial lawyer, especially in Manhattan and you understand the landscape, one thing you can't ignore is just the impact of the jury pool on this decision because a case can be strong in Manhattan and weak in Staten Island. And, you know, certainly, it can be strong in New York and weak in Georgia based upon the people who are deciding whether or not someone is guilty or innocent. I mean, reasonable people can disagree about evidence.

But here in Manhattan, I mean, what kind of percentage of the vote did Donald Trump carry in the last presidential election? I mean, was it even double digits? He is extremely unpopular here. He is possibly the most despised person on the island. And there are going to be potential jurors in this trial who are going to consider it their moral imperative to convict him if they have the opportunity. And, you know, so to get 12 people to acquit him at trial in Manhattan, I think, is actually kind of a tall order for the defense. So I think the possibility of a conviction - I mean, listen; I don't know what the evidence is. But if I had to pick which side to be on, and I had to win to save my life, I would probably choose to be on the prosecution side simply because the jury pool in Manhattan is so, you know, incredibly against Donald Trump.

PFEIFFER: Well, is that a case, then, to have the case moved out of Manhattan?

GALLUZZO: Well, I think you're going to see that motion for sure. I mean, I can't imagine the defense attorneys aren't going to argue that it's impossible for him to get a fair trial in Manhattan given, you know, just how much the local population despises him, how much they already know about the case, how much they've already read. You know, again, we are in some uncharted waters here. Does a former president have the right to transfer a venue based upon his electoral results in the place where he's being prosecuted? I don't know the answer to that question. It is, to me, a legitimate argument for his defense attorneys to make. Can he actually get a fair trial in Manhattan? Or is every juror going to have already convicted him in their mind when they show up for jury duty? So I don't know. And I don't know what the decision on that motion would be, but I imagine it's going to get made.

PFEIFFER: I have a nuts-and-bolts question because, obviously, we have a presidential campaign coming up. In terms of how long these can take to play out, when could we expect to see a trial start if it goes to trial?

GALLUZZO: You know, I feel like when I get asked questions about this case, I have to give, like, a two-part answer. Like, the one is what would normally happen and then what I expect to happen here (laughter) because it seems like this is not a normal case. I mean, you might say a year for somebody charged in a case like this between arraignment and trial. That would, perhaps, not be an unreasonable estimate, maybe. But, you know, Donald Trump's strategy, I expect, is going to be to try and delay this as much as possible with every motion he can make, every pre-trial motion - contesting venue, contesting the sufficiency of the evidence, contesting all sorts of things. And, you know, because for him, if he can push this thing back until after the election, then, you know, he can effectively win the trial that way. And so I assume that's what he's going to attempt to do. So is it possible to delay a case two, three years if you're, you know, vigorously making all sorts of motions and appealing those decisions? Yeah, it could happen.

PFEIFFER: And it's also likely it could settle?

GALLUZZO: Oh, I don't think so. (Laughter) I seriously doubt it.

PFEIFFER: Because prosecutors wouldn't allow that? Or because Trump wouldn't be willing to do it?

GALLUZZO: I just can't imagine Trump taking a plea to anything. I mean, he's charged - he's going to be charged with a bunch of felonies and probably a lot of misdemeanors. And, you know, they're not going to offer him some sort of noncriminal violation to resolve the case. I mean, if you come at someone like this, you're expecting to, you know, get a secure criminal conviction. And so they're not going to make him an offer that he would accept. And I think, more than anything, he probably wants that public stage to play the victim, to have an audience. I just can't imagine that a deal could be reached between the parties.

PFEIFFER: That's Matthew Galluzzo. He is a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney's office. Thanks for talking this morning.

GALLUZZO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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