Hush money to pornstar: Will Trump really be arrested soon?
NEW DELHI: Donald Trump has declared that he is preparing to be arrested on March 21 over an alleged hush-money payment to a porn star in 2016.
The arrest of a former president — who is also an active 2024 White House candidate — would be unprecedented in American history.
In his usual bombastic style, Trump has been railing against the “rigged” judicial system and has called for his supporters to launch protests.
“Leading Republican candidate & former President of the United States of America will be arrested on Tuesday of next week,” the 76-year-old billionaire recently said on his Truth Social platform, adding: “Protest, take our nation back!”
Here’s what you need to know:
What is the porn star case?
The current investigation, led by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat, centers on $130,000 paid weeks before the 2016 polls to stop porn star Stormy Daniels from going public about an affair she says she had with Trump years earlier.
Trump has denied having had an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and has dismissed the investigation as politically motivated.
On March 13, a New York court heard from Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who made the payment to Daniels. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in 2018 on related federal charges. He pleaded guilty but said he had been carrying out Trump’s orders.
Daniels herself met with prosecutors on March 15 and “agreed to make herself available as a witness, or for further inquiry if needed,” according to her lawyer Charles Brewster.
Trump has been invited to testify, which legal experts say suggests an indictment is near.
What are the charges against Trump?
The payment to Daniels, if not properly accounted for, could result in a misdemeanor charge for falsifying business records. That might be raised to a felony if the false accounting was intended to cover up a second crime, such as a campaign finance violation.
Trump’s lawyer said that his client, if indicted, would surrender to face criminal charges.
What could happen next week?
In the near term, any indictment would require Trump to travel to the district attorney’s office in downtown New York to surrender. In white-collar cases, the defendant’s lawyers and prosecutors typically agree on a date and time, rather than arresting the person at home.
Trump would have his fingerprints and mugshot taken and would appear for arraignment in court. He would likely be released on his own recognizance and allowed to head home, experts said.
Trump’s lawyer, Joe Tacopina, said that Trump would surrender if charged.
If Trump refused to come in voluntarily, prosecutors could seek to have him extradited from Florida, where he currently resides.
When is Trump getting arrested?
Trump has said he expects to be “arrested” on March 21 as prosecutors gave signs of moving closer to an indictment.
Trump’s lawyer Susan Necheles, however, indicated that his posts Saturday were based on media reports and not on any fresh action taken by prosecutors.
Reports said authorities were planning to increase security around the Manhattan courthouse in coming days.
Can Trump really be arrested?
Sitting presidents are largely immune from criminal prosecution, however, Trump was ousted from the White House in the 2020 elections, which makes him subject to the rule of law like anyone else.
A former president does have unusual security protocols, however, and terms on any arrest would need to be worked out with the Secret Service.
This is uncharted territory for all agencies involved. Even US President Richard Nixon was pardoned before he could face the criminal justice system for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
The average criminal case in New York takes more than a year to move from indictment to trial, and Trump’s case is far from typical.
Any trial of the former US president would still be more than a year away, legal experts said, and could coincide with the final months of the 2024 presidential campaign as Trump seeks a return to the White House.
What was Trump’s reaction?
Trump appeared to confirm rumors of his impending arrest in a series of posts on his Truth Social account on Saturday.
Using all caps for emphasis, Trump began in an apocalyptic tone, decrying the “death” of the American dream; the depravity of “radical left anarchists”; and the injustice of “patriots being arrested and held in captivity like animals.”
He then continued: “Now, illegal leaks from a corrupt and highly political Manhattan District Attorneys office… indicate that… the far and away leading Republican candidate & former president of the United States of America, will be arrested on Tuesday of next week.”
Trump called his supporters to take to the streets: “Protest, take our nation back! It’s time!!! We must save America! Protest, protest, protest!!!”
‘I’m Back!’: Donald Trump returns to Facebook and Youtube after a two-year ban
The calls for a new wave of unrest — and unsettling echoes of January 6 — come as Trump has recently had access to his mainstream social media accounts restored, including his YouTube account on March 17.
How will an arrest effect Trump’s White House dreams?
Some observers believe an indictment bodes ill for Trump’s 2024 chances, while others say it could provide a huge boost.
“The arrest secures the nomination for Donald Trump,” tweeted Rick Wilson, a political strategist who quit the Republican Party in protest over Trump. “The base will rally politically, and possibly physically.”
Tech billionaire Elon Musk, a self-described libertarian who has increasingly aligned with Republican positions and who overturned the Twitter ban on Trump, went even further.
“If this happens, Trump will be re-elected in a landslide victory,” Musk said in a tweet.
Not even a conviction in the hush money case would prevent Trump from running, but an indictment could have major consequences, galvanising his critics but also electrifying his supporters.
What has been the reaction of Democrats?
Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi denounced Trump’s announcement as “reckless,” saying it would “foment unrest among his supporters.”
She insisted that justice must work its course: “Whatever the Grand Jury decides, its consideration makes clear: no one is above the law, not even a former President of the United States.”
“He cannot hide from his violations of the law, disrespect for our elections and incitements to violence,” added Pelosi, who was still speaker when Trump was impeached for inciting the January 6, 2021 rioting in the US Capitol.
How have the Republicans reacted?
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reacted with fury, accusing New York prosecutors of pursuing “political vengeance” against Trump.
McCarthy vowed on Twitter to launch a congressional probe of the matter and said the impending arrest was “an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump”.
Mike Pence, who recently said Trump endangered the former vice president’s family on January 6, opted to echo the party line: Criticising the Manhattan district attorney and questioning his motives.
Rudy Giuliani on Truth Social argued: “What the Democrats are doing to President Trump, they will do to you. They have destroyed the fair and equal administration of justice in the United States.”
Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona played dubious whataboutism on Truth, writing: “President Trump is on the path to be indicted before any of the crooks in the Biden family. Think about that. We have a two-tier justice system.”
Also on Truth Social, Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas (Trump’s former White House physician) railed against “Soros-owned DAs” engaged in “vendettas against conservatives” before appearing to advocate President Biden’s ouster. “The nation is falling apart. We need Trump back in charge NOW!”
What are the other legal woes being face by Trump?
Trump is facing several criminal probes at state and federal level over possible wrongdoing that threaten his new run at the White House.
In Georgia, a prosecutor is investigating Trump and his allies’ efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the southern state. The grand jury in that case has recommended multiple indictments, the forewoman revealed last month.
The former president is also the subject of a federal probe into his handling of classified documents as well as his possible involvement in the January 6 rioting.
(With inputs from agencies)
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