The Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Donald J. Trump today, in connection with his payment of hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, in a truly historic move against a former American president who is again seeking reelection. Trump is expected to be booked and arraigned sometime next week in downtown Manhattan, although the exact timing and charges remain unknown right now, because the indictment remains sealed.
It’s hard to overstate the gravity of this development, which apparently came as something of a surprise to Trump’s team at Mar-a-Lago, despite nearly constant swirling rumors that charges would be brought.
For his part, Trump already released a lengthy grievance-soaked statement decrying what he called “Political Persecution and Election Interference,” offering a false narrative of his own victimhood, and attacking Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as a tool of “Radical Left Democrats.”
This is likely only to be the first shot fired in Trump’s verbal offensive, with far more to come as he embarks on the rhetorical war path.
A political earthquake
This is the first time a current or former American president has ever been charged with a crime, and it can be expected to shake American politics and jurisprudence to its very core. Certainly, the implications of this case will reverberate deep into Republican politics, and scramble America’s upcoming presidential election in 2024, with entirely unpredictable fallout.
Trump’s legal team has indicated that he will voluntarily surrender to authorities in New York, where he will presumably be arrested, booked, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty before a judge in Manhattan district court. He’s certain to try to turn this event into a media circus, and he will work hard to inflame his supporters to come out and defend him, perhaps with additional calls for violence.
Indeed, he’s already demanded that his supporters “PROTEST! PROTEST! PROTEST!” in numerous fiery Truth Social posts predicting this indictment. He held a somewhat sparsely attended rally at Waco, Texas, which was the site of the infamous siege against the Branch Davidian sect, an important symbol of violent far-right rebellion against the federal government. The symbolism was lost on no one.
Lately, Trump’s been explicitly promising “retribution.” He predicted “death and destruction,” were he to be indicted, and now that he has been, aftermath is all but assured.
For some time, Donald Trump has spoken flippantly about this moment, claiming that an indictment would actually benefit him politically with his bitterly aggrieved voters. However, the real question now seems to be how this prosecution might alter the larger political landscape within the Republican Party, and whether or not and to what degree the GOP coalesces around the former president.
And yet some quarters of the Republican Party are certain to remain in his corner, particularly in the GOP’s radicalized congressional caucus. Indeed, Kevin McCarthy’s House Republicans have already been lacerating Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, and subpoenaing his documents, on behalf of the former president, in what appears to be a blatant effort to obstruct this very prosecution.
Congressional Republicans like Jim Jordan and Elise Stefanik have already been vociferously denouncing what they’ve called a “sham prosecution” and “outrageous,” without even seeing the indictment, in a sign of how little the underlying facts and evidence matter to them. But other Republicans may be harder to pin down, particularly those who might wish to defeat Trump in the upcoming primaries.
Will prominent presidential aspirants like Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo finally turn on Donald Trump, or will they continue to be his reliably sycophantic supporters, terrified of incurring his wrath? Will these leading Republicans adopt Trump’s own poisonous rhetoric describing this indictment as a “political witch hunt,” and could this prosecution galvanize his support in the GOP ahead of 2024?
We simply don’t know how this will ultimately play out, politically or legally.
However, in the near term, Trump can expect a boost in support, as elected Republicans rally around their former boss. The long term consequences of an indictment are much harder to predict, as a combative former American president defends himself against felony charges in a criminal trial.
A cascade of charges
Of course, there are other simmering criminal investigations that are felt to be far more serious than this hush money affair, particularly Fulton County DA Fani Willis’s inquiry in Georgia, currently examining Trump’s efforts to fraudulently flip votes. There’s also the federal inquiry at the Department of Justice, led by special counsel Jack Smith, into Trump’s hoarding of classified documents, for which a federal search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago.
The question then, is whether or not these Manhattan charges might crack open the doorway to other far more consequential prosecutions, and what kind of compounding effect multiple simultaneous prosecutions would have on Trump’s support in the Republican Party.
Again, it’s all unknown.
Right now, what is known, is that a single prosecutor is finally attempting to hold an utterly lawless former leader of the free world to account for one small part of his long record of wrongdoing, with no guarantee of success. With that said, there’s every reason to pursue Trump in court, should evidence of crimes exist.
Without the rule of law, our democracy will fail. Period.
Donald Trump has evaded justice for decades, for racist housing policies at his residential buildings in Queens, for obstructing the Mueller investigation into Russian election interference, for blackmailing the president of Ukraine into providing dirt on Joe Biden, for trying to overturn a valid American election with lies, and ultimately inciting a lethal insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
He was acquitted after two righteous impeachments during and after his presidency because of the cowardice of elected Republicans, and he has thus far escaped state and federal charges for his well-documented efforts to incite a coup d’etat, and his hoarding of mounds of classified documents at his home at Mar-a-Lago.
Donald Trump is a cancer on the American body politic, fueled by his own sense of impunity. That impunity is finished.
Perhaps finally, justice will prevail over this destructive and narcissistic criminal, who’s brought this country so low. Perhaps finally, American democracy will be safeguarded from a would-be dictator who would like nothing better than to obliterate our freedom, and replace the rule of law with the rule of the strong, connected, and wealthy.
Of course, whether or not this prosecution is successful will have the gravest possible national implications for the country. Trump and his minions will do everything in their power to tear America apart, and obstruct the successful pursuit of justice.
That much is assured.