By Debabrata Biswas from Boston
On April 4, citizen Trump surrendered, formally arrested and arraigned in a mundane court room on the 15th floor of Manhattan Criminal Court in New York .He was spared of procedural mug shot and handcuff as a courtesy to a former president. And with this, ‘a new, dangerous chapter of his confrontation with American norms was underway.
In indictment 71543-23, the people of the New York state charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records for his alleged role in hush money payment of $ 13,0000 to a porn star Stormy Daniel ahead of 2016 election . Trump, prosecutors say, falsified those records to conceal violation of New York state election laws that prohibit promoting a candidate y unlawful means and a federal law that cap contribution limits.
Trump faces a string of other enquiries as he campaigns for another presidential bid in 2024. It includes a criminal investigation over classified documents, including top secrets, found at his Florida estate , Mar- a-Lago; a probe in Washington DC into his efforts to undone the results of 2020 presidential election and an investigation in Georgia looking whether he and his allies illegally interfere in the states 2020 election.
Of all the enquiries Trump faces, a DOJ (Dept. of Justice) probe into the retention of classified and top secret govt. documents unlawfully at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, could present the most significant legal jeopardy for him. As part of the enquiry, agent and prosecutors spent months siphoning and interviewing multiple Trump people , including an aide who was seen on surveillance video moving ones of documents at his property in Florida. DOJ searched his estate last year with a search warrant convincing a Florida judge with proofs and lawful documents, that there was a probable case of criminal activities there, including the wilful retention of national defense informations – a statute that by itself carries a penalty of up to 10 years prison time. Attorney General Merick Garland in last Nov. appointed Jack Smith , a veteran prosecutor , war crimes specialist , to serve as special counsel for Mar-a-Lago investigation.
Apart from handling the Mar-a-Lago case, Mr. Smith is also investigating key aspect of a separate probe into Trump’s effort to overturn the results of 2020 presidential election. Federal prosecutor under Smith have been specially focused on a scheme by Trump to stay in power. His allies put forth a slate of fake presidential electors in key battle ground states who would false declare that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden had won the 2020 election. The Prosecutors have issued subpoenas to a number of Republican Party chairs, including former Vice President Mike Pence, chief of staff Mike Meadows, Rudy Giuliani etc. They have brought multiple very important Trump-officials before the grand jury including former White House Chief Counsel and a top aide of Pence. A Congressional House committee that investigated Jan. 6 riot at Capitol Hill has recommended that DOJ bring criminal charges against Trump and his associates on this issue.
Then there is the case regarding Georgia. After his 2020 election loss, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffenperger and argued him to ‘ find 11,780 votes’ – just enough to overtake Joe Biden and overturn Trump’s loss in the state. The January .2, 2020 phone call was part of a month’s long efforts by a special grand jury in Atlanta investigating whether crimes were committed as a part of the pressure campaign to overturn Trump’s defeat .The investigation was initiated by Fulton County’s District Attorney General Fani Willis , a Democrat . Among those questioned were Rudy Giuliani, former NY mayor and a Trump lawyer, senator Lindsey Graham and Georgia governor Brian Kemp. Prosecutors have advised Giuliani and some Georgian Republicans who served as fake electors that they are at risk of being indicted. The fake selectors signed a certificate asserting Trump had won the election and declaring themselves the state electors, even though Biden had won and democratic electors had already been certified.
Trump and his allies have denied wrong doing and he repeatedly described his phone call to Raffenperger as ‘perfect’. He asked a state court to ‘scrap the investigation’ alleging it has been ‘ tainted by improper influences’, but the court dismissed it. After hearing 75 witnesses, the special grand jury wrote a report summerising its findings and recommended criminal charges against multiple people whose identities haven’t been made public. It is up to Willis to decide whether to convene a regular grand jury and Perdue criminal charges in the case.
There are many other cases, some criminal some civic against Trump. At least four Capitol police suits and Metropolitan police suits over Jan. 6 Riot, NY criminal investigation of Trump Organisation Golf Course and criminal investigation in Trump’s finances.
In a separate civil case in Federal court in New York, Trump has been accused of raping writer and former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll in a dressing room in the mid 1990s. The case is scheduled to go to trial in April25, 2023.
Trump has repeatedly insisted he never met her and dismissed the rape claim saying ‘ physically she’s not my kind’. During the deposition, he misidentified a decade old photograph of Carroll as one of his ex wives.
Trump has already lose a civil suit in NY against him, his sons and Trump Organisation , alleging that they misled banks and tax authorities about value of the assets including golf courses and sky scrapers to get loan and tax benefits . The court imposed a heavy fine and debarred Trump organization doing any business in New York.
These cases bear on two pressing questions. First: Will Trump be able to maintain his long streak of eluding legal liabilities in the face of so many lawsuits? Second: If Trump is held to account for illegal conduct, what impact will such a development have on his and his families political and business fortunes?
Criminal charges -one would think- would be among the most damaging outcomes. After all, a criminal prosecution of a former president would be a singular event in American history. No former president has ever even indicted before, much less convicted. Trump lost any immunity from indictment that he may have as president. To be sure, most of the criminal probes against him are mostly in their middle stage, so the odds of an actual conviction at this time, at least till the date of 2024 presidential election remain improbable. Specially, Trump has the knack and resources to drag the legal procedure to the most stretchable limits. He has raised more than seven million dollars from his supporters after his indictment. Even so, the stigma of criminal charges against the former president could reshape the American political landscape and the historical understanding of Trump’s behaviour.
The political fallout of his indictment didn’t match Trump’s expectation. His call “protest, bring America back again” didn’t stir up expected emotions, even among his Republican base. In NY, the number of protesters that gathered in Manhattan were about 300, which was easily outnumbered by a gathering against him. Republican congress members, Majorie Taylor Greene and New Yorker Santos , who came there to give firey speeches in front of their supporters, actually fled away in the face of anti -Trump demonstration.
But most of the Republican leaders gave their tacit support to Trump, for genuine or mere political convenience. Trump launched a characteristic effort to discredit attempts to call him to account, trying to intimidate prosecutors, even the judge, mobilize his grassroots supporters and pressure top GOP officials rally to his side. He is leveraging and underlining his dominance of GOP. Trump’s effort to politicize the case and to distract from the allegation has already worked as his top allies in Republican House leadership attack New York attorney general Bragg.
After Trump’s indictment, a new poll conducted by YouGov. reveals a divided country on this issue. More Americans approve (56%) than disapprove (33%) of the charge .Majority say Trump definitely had an affair with Stormy Daniels (68%) and directed money to her to remain silent(65%) . About 58% believe he attempted to conceal damaging informations and unlawful activity during 2016 election. A large majority believes that his acts are immoral. Many are unsure about the likelihood of conviction and how it might effect Trump’s 2024 presidential candidacy. Americans are somewhat divided in this regard , with 32% believing that the charge will make him stronger, while 29% think it will weaken his candidacy. Regardless of this, most Americans (58%) think Trump should not be allowed to serve as president again if he is convicted.
Donald Trump is adamant. He has got the confidence of a major section of far right Republican support base. He is going ahead with his plans for the campaign for 2024 presidential elections. America is vertically split and this process will intensify more as the poll campaign picks up. (IPA Service)