The recent indictment could be a boon for the former president
Donald Trump is nothing if not a trailblazer. The recent Manhattan indictment obtained by New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg, relating to hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels, marks the first time a former US president has faced criminal charges. However, much like the interminable Russiagate investigation and Trump’s record-setting two impeachment trials, this latest turn of events is significant.
DA Bragg is now completing the work that began a half-decade ago under his predecessor Cy Vance when he charged Trump with more than 30 counts related to business fraud. Although most acknowledge that there was a violation that occurred in relation to attorney Michael Cohen’s payment to Daniels and the Trump Organization’s reimbursement of him, the indictment itself is a mess. The statute of limitations for offences related to the payment to Daniels expired in 2021, the legal theory of jurisdictional authority is untested, and the charges themselves may be difficult to elevate from misdemeanours to felonies. Given Bragg’s stated disdain for “overcharging” defendants, it’s fascinating that the meat of his case against Trump rests on precisely that.
Nevertheless, all is fair in politics and war, and Democrats will surely welcome the fact that one of several investigations into Trump or his business operations has borne fruit. At the time of this writing, New York Attorney General Letitia James continues to investigate the Trump Organization, Fulton County (Georgia) District Attorney Fani Willis is looking into allegations of election fraud, special counsel Jack Smith is trying to make a case against Trump for 18 months of obstructing efforts to retrieve government documents from his mansion in Florida. If that wasn’t enough, the Jan. 6 committee that was investigating Trump’s role in the Capitol riot is itself now being investigated by House Republicans.
Trump, as he never tires of pointing out via lines like “I’m a PhD at litigation”, has been under investigation or involved in litigation for decades. This is the normal state of operations for the “very stable genius” who, throughout his life, has relied on “mental stability” and “being, like, really smart” to spin seemingly negative wall-to-wall coverage into free-media gold.
The New York trial, which could drag on for months and perhaps even years, might not do Trump any favours with Democrats and independent voters, but it could prove a boon during the primaries. With Bragg threatening him with trumped-up charges, most mainstream Republicans will once again have to circle the wagons in support of the former president.
Even Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who lags behind Trump in every significant primary poll despite growing institutional support and ongoing signs of irritation about Trump, found himself tweeting his distaste for the prosecutorial overreach of the “the Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney” who “has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct”. While DeSantis might have a point with regard to the seeming hypocrisy of Bragg’s prosecution of Trump, backing the former president here doesn’t do much to differentiate his own political brand from that of his more controversial and popular opponent.
Trump, meanwhile, can ride the tiger all the way back to the Republican nomination. He’ll get a chance to bask in weeks — perhaps even months — of uninterrupted spotlight, fulminating about Bragg (a “racist,” an “animal,” a “radical Left prosecutor”). It won’t be an easy ride, but it’s worth remembering that the underlying incident here was Trump’s attempt to silence Stormy Daniels, just one of many gaffes, crises, and contretemps that he survived en route to defeating Hillary Clinton.
For anyone with an interest in Trump’s future — a vast group that includes Joe Biden, congressional Democrats, DeSantis, congressional Republicans and the news networks — it would be wise to remember that this isn’t even the beginning of the end for Trump’s political aspirations. When the smoke finally clears, it might not even be the end of the beginning.