Memo to Republicans: These legal actions facing Donald Trump should scare you | Kelly

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Dear Republicans:

Last week, I wrote a “Dear Democrats” column to your political adversaries. This week, it’s the Republicans' turn.

As I noted in my previous column, Democrats need to face five uncomfortable realities about themselves and President Joe Biden if they expect to reelect him in November. I could have named more realities. But I figured five was enough punishment — for now.

Those Democratic “realities” ranged from Biden’s age to the border crisis, the economy, the deep political and cultural divisions in America and the party’s enduring elitist habit of looking down its collective nose at people who go to church, own guns and like to wear red hats with the inscription to “Make America Great Again.”

It's important to point out that Republicans aren’t “deplorables” — as Hillary Clinton said — just because they’re Republicans. Plenty of Democrats and Republicans can easily find a comfortable spot in America’s “basket of deplorables.” But it’s not necessarily because they happen to be Democrats or Republicans. The human condition offers plenty of room for being deplorable without politics.

Which brings me to the likely Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump.

Republicans need to face some uncomfortable realities about Trump. And it’s not just his suggestion to drink bleach to combat the COVID-19 virus. Or Trump's expression of trust in Russian President Vladimir Putin despite what America’s best experts say. Or Trump’s “love” for North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. Or his golf-club-swinging financial dance with Saudi Arabia.

No, the realities that Republicans need to face now about Trump are even more basic.

Simply put: He lies. He cheats. He covers up.

One way to understand these Trumpian realities is to view them through three court cases — all of them taking place in the same lower Manhattan neighborhood in New York City. Republicans should examine the uncomfortable realities emerging from each of these court cases.

More Mike Kelly: Memo to Democrats: Here are five keys to win in your rematch with Donald Trump

1. Accept the reality of Trump’s sex assault lies

This story here is graphic — and yet supremely ironic.

It was the mid-1990s. Trump — the self-proclaimed billionaire, Atlantic City casino king and alleged business genius in the prime of his life — sexually abused a woman who made her living writing a column that offered advice on relationships. Adding to the bizarre nature of this tryst was its location: a changing room, near the lingerie section of the posh, Fifth Avenue Bergdorf Goodman department store.

Writer E. Jean Carroll waves as she leaves federal court after the verdict in her defamation case against former US president Donald Trump in New York on January 26, 2024. Former US president Donald Trump was ordered January 26 by a New York jury to pay $83 million in damages to writer E. Jean Carroll, whom he publicly insulted and called a liar for alleging that he sexually assaulted her. The jury reached its decision after slightly less than three hours of deliberations. Trump made multiple comments about Carroll while he was president, demeaning her in the wake of her allegation of a 1990s assault.

Doesn’t this seem like a plot from “The Young and the Restless”? Or as news editors occasionally joke when confronted with a hard-to-believe story: "You can't make this up."

Three decades later, that alleged Trump assault at Bergdorf Goodman played out in a lawsuit in a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan that is better known for prosecutions against terrorists and Wall Street swindlers. Only the charge was not just sexual in nature. It was also defamation.

In other words, it wasn’t just Trump’s libido that pulled him into court. It was his mouth.

E. Jean Carroll, who wrote the “Ask E. Jean” advice column for Elle Magazine for nearly three decades, charged in the 2019 lawsuit that Trump raped her years earlier at Bergdorf Goodman.

Trump quickly denied the story. No surprise there. But then, he took the denial to another level, starting a character slur campaign against Carroll that became the basis of her defamation lawsuit.

Trump called Carroll’s story a “complete con job” and claimed he did not know her, even though he had been photographed with her. He added in a posting on his Truth Social messaging platform that Carroll’s account was a “hoax and a lie” and accused her of using it to promote her book, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal.”

In May 2023, a jury found Trump liable for sexual abuse, battery and defamation — but not rape — and ordered him to pay $5 million in damages to her. Even though Carroll described in graphic detail a brutal assault in which she says Trump raped her and the judge in the case later ruled that her allegations were "substantially true," the jury stopped short of finding that Trump raped her. Under New York State law at that time, a rape only occurred if there was vaginal penetration by a penis. The jury indicated that it was not entirely convinced Trump penetrated Carroll with his penis, but jurors were more certain that he penetrated her with his hand and fingers. Hence, the sexual abuse ruling and not rape.

New York rape definitions have since changed dramatically. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a new law just this week, entitled "Rape is Rape," which removed the penetration requirement from rape statutes and broadened the definition to include vaginal sexual contact.

After the verdict last year favoring Carroll, Trump couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Days after the jury's ruling, Trump, in a CNN “town hall” with voters, called Carroll’s story “fake” and a “made-up story” by a “whack job.”

Carroll filed another defamation lawsuit. And after a short trial in the same federal courthouse that required the judge to admonish Trump for making comments in court, a jury on Jan. 26 ordered him to pay Carroll another $83.3 million.

Trump has a long and self-publicized reputation for sex. He loves to tell us about this. But, all too often, when he is accused of stepping over any sort of legal or political or sexual line, his primary defense is lying. In this case, he lied about the event in question with Carroll in Bergdorf Goodman. Then he lied about Carroll’s character and honesty.

Now he’s paying for it.

What a jury and judge said: Did Donald Trump rape E. Jean Carroll?

2. Accept the reality of Trump’s persistent business cheating

This problem does not involve Trump’s sex life. But it does involve some of his relationships.

Trump’s business relationships with banks and insurance firms have been long based on his penchant for cooking the books. In other words, he cheats with the numbers.

Just around the corner from the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan where E. Jean Carroll’s lawsuit put Trump on the hook for a hefty slice of his fortune, Trump is also in a New York State courtroom where he could lose much of his real estate empire and an even bigger slice of his fortune.

In a state civil lawsuit, New York Attorney General Letitia James claims that Trump, while building his fortune in real estate, engaged in a none-too-subtle campaign to deceive banks, insurers and others by regularly and massively doctoring the worth of his assets in papers he filed to secure bank loans or insurance.

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks to the media, Nov. 6, 2023, in New York. New York’s attorney general filed suit Wednesday, Dec. 20, against SiriusXM, accusing the satellite radio and streaming service of making it intentionally difficult for its customers to cancel their subscriptions.
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks to the media, Nov. 6, 2023, in New York. New York’s attorney general filed suit Wednesday, Dec. 20, against SiriusXM, accusing the satellite radio and streaming service of making it intentionally difficult for its customers to cancel their subscriptions.

The lawsuit says that if Trump wanted a loan, he falsely exaggerated the worth of such properties as office buildings. As a result, he managed to receive loans and insurance he was not necessarily entitled to.

It's worth noting that Trump does not entirely deny that he doctored the values of his office buildings and other properties. But as you might guess, he says he did nothing wrong.

Memo to Trump: It’s illegal to file false information when applying for a loan or insurance. Maybe he missed that class when he studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

This financial “shell game” has apparently caught up with Trump. Last September, New York State Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump routinely committed fraud.

James asked for a penalty of $250 million and some sort of revocation of Trump’s business licenses in New York State. After another trial this winter over what penalties Trump should face, the potential penalty against Trump rose to $370 million.

Engoron is set to make a ruling any day. But Republicans should already know that the evidence against Trump’s cheating is extensive. The question is whether this matters to them.

Facing major damages NY AG Letitia James raises the stakes in Donald Trump's fraud trial

3. Accept the reality that Trump covers up his mistakes

To understand this Trumpian flaw, voters only need to take a short walk from Engoron’s courtroom to another New York courthouse a block away.

Here, Trump is facing a 34-count indictment, filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, that essentially accuses Trump of cooking his business records. But instead of trying to convince banks to lend him money or insurers to offer favorable terms for his properties, Trump is facing a felony trial, possibly in March, for allegedly falsifying his business records to cover up a crime.

FILE - In this April 16, 2018, file photo, adult film actress Stormy Daniels speaks outside federal court, in New York. According to a person familiar with the matter, on Monday, June 25, 2018, Daniels will meet with federal prosecutors in New York who are investigating President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, in preparation for a possible grand jury appearance. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Once again, sex is part of the story.

Just before the 2016 election, Trump allegedly paid $130,000 in hush money to a pornographic film actress who goes by the name Stormy Daniels.

Daniels, who also claims to be a film director, a stripper and a member of the Night Moves Hall of Fame, says Trump’s then-attorney and purported fixer of embarrassing problems, Michael Cohen, passed the money to her in return for her promise to not disclose that she had a brief sexual affair with Trump.

Trump and Cohen were reportedly concerned that such a revelation could tip the results of the 2016 presidential election against Trump. Who knows how those moral-minded evangelical Christians and other members of the conservative Republican universe might react if they heard that their presidential nominee had cavorted with a porn star?

Yes, I know: What about JFK’s own exploits? It's a good point. But the difference here is the payoff — and the cover-up.

Trump was nervous. So he dipped into his cookie jar and paid "hush money" to his stormy mistress.

It’s important to note here that paying someone to keep a secret is not necessarily illegal. But Trump did not stop with the payments. He allegedly tried to cover up this payment by doctoring his business records.

This is where Alvin Bragg’s investigators entered the story. Filing false business records is illegal.

More Mike Kelly: The case against Trump is hardly small or petty. Here's why

'Not a choirboy'

Trump’s followers say the charges are petty and an overextension of the law in a way that seems like harassment. Many point to the fact that Bragg is a Democrat — just as Judge Engoron and E. Jean Carroll are Democrats.

But reasonable Republicans should know that such finger-pointing misses the point. The truth is that this case is fairly basic. If you cook the books of your business by covering up how you spend money, you are breaking the law. Ask any Wall Street investor who landed in prison.

If you do this with the intention of affecting an election, the offense is even worse.

This may seem small to Trump supporters. But it’s an example of how Trump operates.

When he’s cornered, he tries to cover up.

Many of Trump’s supporters know this. Soon after Trump’s election, one of his most vocal supporters in Pennsylvania told me she knew “Trump was not a choirboy.”

More Mike Kelly: Can Trump run for president while on trial? Welcome to the new American dilemma

But this supporter liked what she felt Trump would do as president.

Well, we know now what he did in the White House — for better or worse. We also know what he promises to do if reelected.

Perhaps now it’s time to dig beneath the politics and examine the man himself.

Democrats need to do that with Joe Biden.

Will Republicans do the same with Donald Trump?

Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for, part of the USA TODAY Network, as well as the author of three critically acclaimed nonfiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in the Northeast, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


This article originally appeared on Trump 2024 could be danger for Republicans due to these lawsuits