Mar 31, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Trump loses control with new phase of legal peril

Former President Trump talks with reporters Saturday on his plane en route to West Palm Beach, Fla., after a campaign rally in Waco, Texas.

Former President Trump talks with reporters Saturday on his plane en route to West Palm Beach, Fla., after a campaign rally in Waco, Texas. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

President Trump, who has spent his life ruthlessly maneuvering to get his way, now is at the mercy of a justice system he can't bully — and, ultimately, in the hands of a Manhattan jury.

Why it matters: Trump, after becoming the first president to be impeached twice, now has the added distinction of being the first ex-president to face criminal charges.

What's happening: A grand jury in Manhattan indicted Trump on charges related to a 2016 illegal hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

  • The specific charges aren't public.
  • CNN analyst John Miller — a former NYPD deputy commissioner with enviable law-enforcement sources — reports Trump faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud.
  • Each count could refer to a single document or even a single accounting entry, CNN analysts noted.

Trump is expected to turn himself in Tuesday, "at which point the former president will be photographed and fingerprinted in the bowels of a New York State courthouse, with Secret Service agents in tow," the N.Y. Times reports (subscription).

  • "Trump has for decades avoided criminal charges despite persistent scrutiny and repeated investigations, creating an aura of legal invincibility" that was shattered yesterday.
  • An NYPD spokesperson told Axios that every officer will report in full uniform today as a "precautionary measure" in response to the indictment.
Front pages of today's New York Times, Wall Street Journal

Between the lines: Of all the investigations Trump faces, the case by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is viewed by most legal experts as the thinnest — unless the prosecutor has something surprising up his sleeve.

State of play: Most Republicans think this helps Trump in the short run — and could even provide a glide path to the '24 Republican nomination, Axios' Zachary Basu notes.

  • This freezes the race at a time when Trump holds a huge lead in GOP polls. That's likely to grow with the saturation coverage ahead.

Indictment-themed GOP fundraising texts and emails started instantly, with Trump as a martyr.

  • With Trump taking up all that oxygen, it'll be even harder for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — or any Trump '24 rival — to gain traction.

Every potential '24 Republican candidate is being forced to defend Trump, when they otherwise might be attacking him or trying to differentiate themselves.

  • DeSantis tweeted that Bragg "is stretching the law to target a political opponent": "It is un-American. ... Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances."
  • Mike Pence, in a prescheduled CNN interview, told Wolf Blitzer: "I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage."
A screenshot of Trump's post on Truth Social
Screenshot via Truth Social

The long run: For the general election, with suburban women as a potentially decisive bloc, it's a totally different story.

  • An indicted (at least) standard-bearer isn't a great look for attracting swing voters.

Trump didn't seem to get much sleep. He posted at 2:46 a.m.: "WHERE'S HUNTER?"

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