WATCH: CNN’s Elie Honig’s Must-See Explainer on Trump Criminal Indictment


The facts and details surrounding Thursday’s criminal indictment of former President Donald Trump have been somewhat lost in a sea of partisan recriminations and obstinance. As a result, it seems that many are confused about what the actual case is, how former Trump attorney and convicted felon Michael Cohen plays a part, and what is the misdemeanor versus felony allegations potentially at play.

Enter CNN’s legal analyst Elie Honig, a former US Attorney himself, who dispassionately laid out the specifics of what we know thus far in a remarkably useful and informative manner.

So let’s start with the facts here, because any good legal analysis, you have to start with the facts. This all circulates around two hush money payments that were made by Donald Trump or people around him to to women who allege that they had had affairs with Donald Trump. Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000. Karen McDougal was paid $150,000. Now, it’s important to note these actual alleged affairs happened years before. And nearly a decade later, we all remember that moment in June of 2015 when Donald Trump came down that escalator and announced his presidential bid. Now, a really important meeting happens two months after that. August 2015, Donald Trump meets with Michael Cohen, who will be an important witness in this case, and David Pecker, who also has testified in the grand jury. Now, David Pecker is in charge of AMI, the company that publishes the National Enquirer, and they talk about how they need to catch and kill these damaging stories, pay for these stories and then not run them. And then a couple of months after that, the Karen McDougal story is paid for by AMI, by the Enquirer, by Pecker. It is caught and killed. They pay for it. They do not run it. Then we all remember that moment about a month before the election when the Access Hollywood tape came out. Donald Trump caught on tape making inflammatory comments. And then just days after that, they work out a catch and kill arrangement with Stormy Daniels. The way this one works, as Michael Cohen pays Stormy Daniels $130,000, and then he gets reimbursed by a series of checks that get paid by Donald Trump and the Trump Organization over about a year after the election. So that’s the way these payments were all set up. And that’s what leads us to the case here now.

Don Lemon then pivoted to a Michael Cohen interview in which he compared this Trump indictment to the ultimate conviction of noted mobster Al Capone on tax evasion, to which Honig offered:

So I think Michael Cohen’s right. This is the least serious of the cases. But that doesn’t mean it’s an unserious case. Important to keep in mind. Michael Cohen was prosecuted federally by the Southern District of New York. That’s a different office. We’re talking now this indictment of Donald Trump is by the state prosecutors across the street. But back in 2018, Michael Cohen was prosecuted federally. He ended up pleading guilty to campaign finance crimes relating to these very same payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Michael Cohen also pled guilty to unrelated perjury, tax fraud and financial fraud. And really important moment, the Justice Department, the Southern District of New York when it came time for Michael Cohen sentencing. Here’s what they said in their letter to the judge in particular. And as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments to Daniels and McDougal, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of individual one. Of course, we know individual one is Donald Trump. So one of the arguments that you’re hearing is Michael Cohen went to prison in part for this. Shouldn’t Donald Trump as well?

Watch above via CNN.

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Colby Hall is the Founding Editor of He is also a Peabody Award-winning television producer of non-fiction narrative programming as well as a terrific dancer and preparer of grilled meats.