By Debabrata Biswas
BOSTON: Donald Trump, on Saturday morning, March 18, posted a message on his social media platform Truth Social that “leading Republican candidate and former president of the United States (himself) will be arrested on Tuesday next week”. The imminent arrest would be in connection to a year-long investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office into a hush money scheme involving a porn film actress, Stormy Daniels. Trump also called for actions against his possible indictment calling his supporters to “protest, take our nation back”. Trump complains privately that he believes he is going to be indicted only because, he thinks, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “hates” him.
Trump’s team said after his post that it had not received any notifications from prosecutors, which is the protocol before any arrest in such cases. “No one tells us anything which is very frustrating. President Trump is basing his response on press reports and leaks,” Joe Tacopina, Trump’s attorney, later said in a statement to CNN.
The investigation related to the hush money payments started when Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michel Cohen, pleaded guilty in 2018 to a federal charge relating to a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels in the closing days of 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, has said that the money was paid to keep her quiet about her claim that she’d slept with the married Trump in 2006.Trump denied that allegation. Cohen said that Trump ordered him to pay the hush money, and that it was for the “principal purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen was later repaid with the money he had shelled out to Daniels through payments that were listed by Trump Company as ‘legal fees’. Manhattan Dist. Attorney Alvin Bragg is investigating Trump for felony falsification of business records. Cohen testified before the grand jury hearing evidence in the case for a second time on Wednesday, March 7.
The former president has been agitating for his team to get his base riled up and believes that an indictment would help him positively. Trump’s legal team has been anticipating that an indictment will happen soon and has been preparing behind the scene for the next steps.
Should he be indicted, the former president is expected to surrender and go through the process of being processed and arraigned at the courthouse, which includes finger-printing and mug shots. However, there could be some accommodations to expedite the entire process. For example, officials would try to get him in front of a judge immediately, where he would likely to be released on his own recognizance.
In view of Trump’s call to ‘protest’, Manhattan Dist. attorney Alvin Bragg said in an email to his staff on last Saturday that his office will not “tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threats the rule of law in New York”. Bragg said his office is coordinating with the New York City police dept. and the court to “ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place, so all 1600 of us have a sincere work environment”. He added that his office “will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly and speak publicly when appropriate” as he said they do with all investigations.
New York Police Department sources and Law Enforcement said that Trump has a big loyal following and also in view of the insurrection on January 6, 2021 on the Capitol Hills, they are monitoring on a daily basis on a showdown against any threats from them. Local, state and federal law enforcement, as well as security agencies are conducting preliminary security assessments , the officials said .They are discussing potential security plans in and around the Manhattan Criminal Court, in case Trump is indicated and travels to New York from Mar-a-Lago, Florida to face the charges. The agencies involve NYPD, New York State Court officers, Secret Service, FBI’s Joint Task Force and the Manhattan Dist. Attorney’s Office.
Previewing a potential line of defence from Republicans on Capitol Hill, House speaker Kevin MaCarthy (R) tweeted that any potential indictment of Trump would represent an “outrageous abuse of power” from the Manhattan Dist. Attorney’s office. Top Republicans, including some of Trump’s potential rivals in the primary for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination, rushed to his defence. “The idea of indicting a former president of the United States deeply troubling me, as it is to tens of millions of Americans,” said former Vice President Mike Pence, who is widely expected to launch a campaign for Republican nomination.
The reaction underscores the political risks faced by would-be opponents who are eager to convince voters that it is time to move on from the former president, but who must contend with the fact that he remains the most popular potential candidate in the Republican Party. The indictment might build sympathy for Donald Trump who is trying to project himself as a victim of Democrat’s political plans. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said that “it’s building a lot of sympathy for Trump”. He said that “Democrats have misplayed it”. Trump garnered support last summer among the Republicans after the FBI searched his Mar-a-Lago residence as part of investigation into his handling of classified documents.
Very few Republicans dare to criticize Trump’s call to ‘protest’. Former New York Gov. Chris Christie (R) on Sunday said on an ABC interview that “the circus continues” in response to a question about Trump’s Truth Social post on Saturday. He said: “Look, he (Trump) only profits and does well in chaos and turmoil. And so he wants to create the chaos and turmoil on his terms… But look at the end, being indicted, never helps anybody.”
MaCarthy’s predecessor as speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi said in a statement, “the former president’s announcement this morning (March 17) is reckless; doing so to keep himself in the news and to foment unrest among his supporters. He cannot hide from his violation of the law, disrespect for our elections and incitement to violence”. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D) commented that there is no reason to protest a potential Trump arrest. “No one is above the law. Not even the former president of the United States.” Gary Cohn, Trump’s one-time economic advisor, said:“I hope that Americans has learned from what has happened in the past and I hope whatever happens next week, we just have a very peaceful set of events.”
Though Donald floated the news of his possible arrest in his social media post last Saturday, it seems unlikely to happen on his predicted day. According to New York Times, “At least one more witness is expected to testify in front of the grand jury and even if the grand jury were to vote to indict the former president on Monday, a Tuesday surrender was unlikely, given the need to arrange timing, travel and logistics”. It’s unclear how Trump landed on Tuesday. Possibly, Trump’s advisory team had guessed that it could happen around then and Trump jumped on it. Indeed, a Trump spokesperson hedged that bet slightly in a statement noting that “there has been no notification” from the Manhattan D.A. Alvin. Bragg that an indictment is coming.
Probably, Trump wants to force the Republicans to defend him against the investigations publicly. Many of his advisors and surrogates began attacking Bragg on Saturday. A Trump aligned PAC MAGA.Inc sent a newsletter tracking which fellow 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls have come to his defence and which have not. India-born billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy, an aspirant for presidential nomination, expressed strong views against Trump’s probable indictment; Mike Pence also spoke up, although he warned against protests going violent. Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo avoided any positive or supportive comments, as did Ron De Santis, who has bypassed the issue so far.
Meanwhile, a Trump team has began fundraising on the prospect of his arrest. They remember the fact that Trump could collect more than one hundred million dollars after his Mar-a-Lago residence was searched by the DOJ for holding back some classified documents. This time it is a more serious affair. Trump is going to be indicted. So more donations would come to his fund. Trump is a shrewd salesman indeed.
As part of Bragg’s investigations, Trump could be charged for falsifying business records, typically a misdemeanour but a felony if it was a part of cover up or under criminal wrong doing and here could revolve around campaign finance irregularities, when Trump allegedly reimbursed his then personal attorney Michel Cohen for paying off Stormy Daniels who allegedly had sexual relations with Trump. The hush money deal allegedly crafted weeks before he won the presidential election, could put Trump in jeopardy of violating campaign finance laws.
If Trump is indicted and charged, the case would eventually move on to jury selection, which could be a lengthy and exhaustive process. During the selection, the prosecutors and the defense use ‘voir dire’ questioning, meaning they can ask each prospective jurors questions about their qualifications and knowledge of the case, in an attempt to ensure fair and impartial jurors.
The judge could opt to issue a so-called ‘gag order’, restricting all from talking to the press and limiting the juror’s exposure to outside influence or information.
As Kevin O’Brien, a former federal prosecutor, told the Guardian: “Trump would be subject to a criminal enforcement action by a state which could pose a lot of constitutional quandaries. It would be messy and confusing for voters and potential jurors alike. How this guy could be running for presidency facing conviction for an act of dishonesty that is indictable!” Do the Americans feel the same way? (IPA Service)