Washington Donald Trump still dominates the game of attention and provocation. He caused an uproar on Saturday when he announced his arrest was imminent. Already this Tuesday, the ex-president wrote on his network Truth Social, he will be arrested in connection with a criminal case in New York. “Protest, take back your nation,” he urged his followers in the same post.
The appeal was reminiscent of Trump’s incendiary tweets around January 6, 2021, when thousands of his supporters stormed the Capitol in Washington. It is unclear whether Trump actually has to appear in the courtroom on Tuesday. The responsible district attorney’s office in Manhattan has not yet commented on this, and a spokesman for Trump admitted to CNN that no official request had been received.
But one thing is certain: an ongoing criminal case in connection with hush money payments to two of Trump’s former lovers is taking on more and more concrete forms. For months, a so-called grand jury in New York has been hearing details and witnesses about the Trump case. In the past few weeks, there have been increasing indications that the panel will soon vote to impeach Trump. According to the Axios portal, the New York authorities are preparing for increased security measures should Trump have to appear in court.
“Danger of violent protests”
During his tenure in the White House, Trump was still protected by immunity from impeachment. “If he is arrested, Donald Trump would be the first US President in history to be impeached,” Republican expert Matthew Continetti told Handelsblatt. “The unprecedented nature of such an event would have unpredictable consequences.” The political expert at the Washington think tank American Enterprise Institute sees a “danger of violent protests from his most committed supporters”.
For now, Trump’s announcement should be taken with a pinch of salt. Because it is unlikely that there will be an arrest on Tuesday. After all, the witness interviews are not yet complete, writes the New York Times. However, the situation could change at any time, the newspaper emphasized, citing insiders.
According to Trump’s lawyers, the ex-president would not resist arrest. As soon as a decision is made, it should be quick: According to CNN, Trump would travel to Manhattan accompanied by the Secret Service and would have to appear at the district attorney’s office for fingerprints and mug shots. According to a testimony in the courtroom, he could be released pending the verdict.
Trump’s election campaign seems determined to turn the looming impeachment into publicity. The former president wants to move back into the White House on the Republican ticket, in 2024 the US will hold presidential elections. Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, called the Manhattan investigation a “nuclear button” and the responsible prosecutor Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, an “extended arm of Joe Biden”.
Bragg is investigating whether Trump violated state law in connection with hush money payments in 2016. Much of the process relies on testimony from Michael Cohen, a former Trump attorney. On Trump’s instructions, he said he transferred a total of $280,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, with whom Trump is said to have had affairs in 2006.
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Cohen, in turn, is said to have been “compensated” by Trump’s company “The Trump Organization” with more than 420,000 US dollars. The public prosecutor classifies the payments retrospectively as illegal campaign donations, Trump was then in the middle of the presidential election campaign. Cohen has already served a prison sentence in connection with the payments.
An indictment could be a game changer
As president, Trump survived two impeachment procedures, and numerous allegations of sexual assault always remained without consequences. Trump often flirts with his reputation for seemingly invulnerability: as a 2016 candidate, Trump once joked that he could “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” and still “won’t lose any voters.”
But recently the investigations against him have increased. Earlier this year, Allen Weisselberg, former CFO of Trump Corporation, was convicted of tax fraud. Further indictments are threatened by the US Department of Justice and the state of Georgia, which is investigating Trump’s attempts at vote-rigging.
Trump knows several top Republicans behind him. Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the third highest-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, accused the New York prosecutor’s office of wanting to “silence the America First movement”. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy condemned the investigation as “politically motivated”.
At least shortly after an indictment, the Republicans could rally behind Trump, says expert Continetti. This is also due to the fact that the New York prosecutor’s case is “pretty weak and poor”.
Other strategists see an indictment as a turning point – to Trump’s detriment. “A growing number of people are fed up with the shenanigans that come with Donald Trump. An arrest and indictment will only reinforce those feelings,” Republican strategist Matt Dole told Handelsblatt. Republicans would increasingly look for alternatives, such as Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida. “He continues Trump’s populist ideals without the circus.”
Trump’s offensive comes at a time when the field of Republican candidates is filling up. While Trump is the most popular politician among the Republican base, his support is falling. The percentage of Republicans who say they will “definitely” vote for Trump in 2024 has dropped 20 points since June 2021, according to a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll.
DeSantis has yet to announce his candidacy, but is building his national profile with a book tour. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who are vying for the Republican nomination, tour key primary states.
Trump is not going to retreat for the moment, on the contrary. After retiring to his estate in Mar-a-Lago for months, he is now holding more mass rallies again. A Trump rally has been announced for next Saturday in the Texan city of Waco. He may have been officially charged by then.
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