Donald Trump indicted again: is latest threat of prison a game changer?

The former president ‘really could be going to jail’ but Republicans ‘may not care’ say commentators

Donald Trump
Trump might ‘accept the Republican nomination while wearing an ankle bracelet’
(Image credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has been charged over his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.

The former US president’s lawyer says the charges include conspiracy, false statements, obstruction of justice, and illegally retaining classified documents under the Espionage Act.

It is the first time a former president has faced federal charges. If he is convicted, Trump could face a maximum combined sentence of up to 100 years in prison, reported ABC News.

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But what does this mean for Trump, his hopes for the 2024 White House election and the United States itself?

What did the papers say?

“It is often tempting to hype every Trump drama out of proportion and then lose sight of when something genuinely monumental has happened,” wrote David Smith from Washington for The Guardian. But this is “genuinely monumental” and Trump “really might be going to jail”.

There is a sense of “gathering momentum” as the electoral calendar and legal calendar “hurtle towards a great collision”, Smith added. “Could Trump accept the Republican nomination while wearing an ankle bracelet?”

Recalling that Trump was charged by the state of New York in April over a hush-money payment to a porn star, The New York Times said the new indictment “in many ways… eclipses the first in terms of both legal gravity and political peril”. This is because it was “brought by a federal prosecutor representing the nation as a whole” and “concerns the nation’s secrets”.

Many Republican voters “may not care if their leader slips money to a porn star to keep quiet”, but “will they be indifferent about impeding authorities seeking to recover clandestine material?” the paper asked.

Totting up his legal woes, the NYT noted that Trump was “recently… found liable for sexual abuse in a civil trial, his company has been found guilty of 17 counts of tax fraud and other crimes and he still faces two other possible indictments stemming from his effort to overturn his 2020 election defeat, leading to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021”.

Therefore, “the question, politically at least, is whether the accumulation of all those allegations will someday weigh him down among Republican voters who otherwise like him”, it added.

They won’t, predicted The Daily Telegraph’s US editor, Nick Allen. “It seems counterintuitive but the latest criminal charges against Donald Trump will probably boost his chances of winning the Republican nomination in 2024,” he wrote.

“There is a widespread – and growing – perception among Republican primary voters that the justice system has been weaponised by Democrats against the former president” and Trump “went up in the polls” after his hush-money indictment, said Allen.

But the significance of the latest development was not lost on CNN’s Stephen Collinson. It has “thrust the country into an unprecedented and perilous moment in its history” at a time when it is “already internally estranged over politics”.

Criminal investigations into the activities of former presidents and current presidential candidates “might be business as usual in tottering developing world states”, he added. “But there’s no parallel for an ex-commander in chief facing federal charges in the US.”

What next?

Trump has announced that he has been ordered to report to the federal courthouse in Miami on 13 June. However, “it’s possible that Trump could face further charges in Washington DC, where the documents investigation, led by special counsel Jack Smith, has been based”, said Politico.

In the meantime, the Secret Service will meet Trump’s staff and his security officers to plan his journey to the Miami courthouse, said the BBC. On Tuesday, Trump is “expected to be placed under arrest and booked before appearing before a judge”, said The Independent.

Under federal law, collection of a DNA sample is mandatory in felony cases. It is “unlikely” that Trump will be jailed following the arraignment, added the news site.

It might take more than a year for the case to go to full trial, said Politico. “Trump, historically, has sought to drag out litigation, and he’d have many tools in his arsenal to do so here,” it said.

Trump can continue his campaigning as there is no constitutional impediment to running for president from prison – or even being elected while behind bars.

Meanwhile, Trump remains defiant and bombastic. “I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former president of the United States,” he wrote on his platform Truth Social.

He added: “This is indeed a dark day for the United States of America. We are a country in serious and rapid decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!”

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.