New York City officials are bracing for possible protests after a Manhattan grand jury reportedly voted to indict former President Donald Trump. The ex-president previously said that he expected New York authorities to arrest him, and urged his supporters to stick up for him, saying: "Protest, take our nation back!"
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office has wrapped up its investigation and will reportedly charge Trump with unspecified charges related to falsifying financial records to hide a 2016 hush-money payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels just ahead of Trump's election. Daniels claimed she had an affair with Trump years earlier, which Trump denied.
Upon hearing news of a forthcoming indictment, Republicans rushed to Trump's defense. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) discouraged GOP voters from taking to the streets, but said indicting Trump would be an "outrageous abuse of power by a radical D.A.." He called for House committees to look into pulling funding from the Manhattan district attorney's office and any other law-enforcement entity that is trying to "subvert our democracy" with partisan prosecutions. Former Vice President Mike Pence — who is one of Trump's likely rivals for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination and recently called for Trump to be held accountable for the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack — said the case "reeks" of "political prosecution." Could charges derail Trump's attempted political comeback, or is the case helping him by pressuring even his GOP critics to rally behind him?
'The weakest of charges'
Trump the "Teflon president" always knew "his MAGA followers would rush to his defense" if he were to be indicted, said David Siders and Adam Wren at Politico. "What became clear over the weekend was how quickly the rest of the Republican Party might follow." Trump has turned scandals to his benefit before. Remember the Access Hollywood tape? By sounding the alarm about a looming indictment, team Trump could "turn the impending indictment into a litmus test for the rest of the field: either defend the ex-president, they warned, or be labeled a leftist sympathizer."
"It's impossible to overstate Mr. Bragg's bad judgment here," said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Michael Cohen, Trump's former fixer and the prosecutor's star witness, is "an admitted felon," and "based on the public evidence so far," the whole investigation is just a resuscitated "seven-year-old case that even federal prosecutors refused to bring to court." By going through with this, Bragg will be indicting a former president "for the first time in American history based on the weakest of charges." He'll be launching a "media circus for the ages," and all it will take is a single juror to "block a guilty verdict and validate Mr. Trump's claim that this is a political prosecution."
'A political disaster'
Whatever the repercussions, prosecutors have to pursue the evidence, said James D. Zirin at The Hill. "Trump is a bad actor" with a lot to answer for, including "the events of Jan. 6 and the mishandling of classified documents, now in the hands of Special Counsel Jack Smith." And don't forget the "multiple criminal violations of local election laws" he and his allies are suspected of committing by pressuring Georgia officials to declare him the 2020 winner in their state, even though he lost to President Biden. If the best prosecutors can do is bust Trump for falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments about an alleged affair, so be it. Al Capone was a gangster, but the feds got him for tax evasion. Sometimes you have to take "the bird in the hand."
Stop overthinking it, wrote Alexander Burns at Politico. Of course an indictment will be "a political disaster" for Trump. Believing Trump will weasel his way out of trouble is a learned habit of the American psyche because he "defied countless terminal prognoses" to win the 2016 election. And "at another point in his political life, perhaps Trump might have turned this case into rich fodder for a comeback." But he's too weak now. His support is dwindling, and while an indictment might "rev up people who already care deeply about his every utterance and obsession," it won't gain him any new votes. Republicans should think long and hard about whether "a campaign about Jan. 6 and Stormy Daniels" is one that will end well for their party.