Trump seeks to use indictment to his political advantage
Former President Trump is seeking to take advantage of his possible indictment by the Manhattan district attorney in New York, using the threat to raise money for his presidential campaign while casting himself as a victim of a political state.
Trump has used his megaphone to rile up supporters, urging them to protest any arrest and fight for their country — messaging that echoes calls he made ahead of the violent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
The effort shows Trump and his team think the legal case against him can actually be used to better his standing in a GOP primary race, though the calls for protests also risk backfiring.
“If DA Alvin Bragg brings this case, it will not only serve to coalesce President Trump’s support, but it will become the single largest in-kind contribution to a federal campaign in political history,” Taylor Budowich, head of the Trump-aligned Make America Great Again, Inc. PAC, wrote in a Sunday memo.
Trump on Saturday suggested on Truth Social that he was going to be arrested on Tuesday, adding, “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
Trump’s campaign apparatus also sent out multiple fundraising requests seeking to capitalize on the former president’s prediction as it sought to engage supporters over the news cycle Trump himself had instigated.
A Trump campaign spokesperson later clarified the former president was not given any advance notice of an impending arrest, but was instead basing his messages on recent media reports.
If Trump was trying in part to influence his potential 2024 GOP rivals, it appeared to work.
Several fell in line by attacking Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) and dismissing the charges as politically motivated.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has called Trump’s rhetoric around Jan. 6 “reckless,” said Sunday the Manhattan case felt like a “politically charged prosecution.”
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who is weighing a 2024 bid and is a frequent Trump critic, cautioned that an indictment could foster “a lot of sympathy for the former president.”
Trump and his allies, including Donald Trump Jr., also criticized a response on Monday from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely seen as Trump’s strongest potential GOP rival.
Trump Jr. said the response was “pure weakness” and criticized the silence by DeSantis over the weekend.
One Republican strategist with ties to Trump’s orbit said an indictment by Bragg will cause many Trump supporters to “double down” in their belief Trump is being unfairly targeted. The strategist also suggested it was smart of Trump to get ahead of any announcement, because it forced prominent Republicans to weigh in or risk drawing the ire of Trump’s base.
The case against Trump follows an investigation into a $130,000 payment fixer Michael Cohen made to adult-film star Stormy Daniels as she was about to go public with a story that she had a sexual relationship with Trump — an affair he denies.
The payment was made shortly before the 2016 election and reimbursements to Cohen were couched as legal fees — a move that could violate laws surrounding the need to disclose them as a campaign-related expense.
Cohen pleaded guilty and served time for his role in the matter on charges related to campaign finance violations and tax fraud.
In response to Trump’s warning of a pending arrest, Republican lawmakers almost uniformly attacked Bragg and lambasted the case as politically motivated.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) vowed to review funding for the prosecutor’s office in response to the potential charges, while three GOP House committee leaders said they would push for testimony from Bragg.
In a Monday morning letter to Bragg led by House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a longtime Trump defender, the lawmakers demanded all communications and documents from his office related to the case.
The move was lambasted by Democrats in Congress as highly inappropriate interference with an ongoing investigation.
“Defending Trump is not a legitimate legislative purpose for Congress to investigate a state district attorney,” Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.), who before serving in Congress worked as counsel for the Democrats’ first impeachment of Trump, wrote on Twitter.
Congress has no jurisdiction to investigate the Manhattan district attorney, which receives no federal funding nor has any other federal nexus.
“Instead of the House majority acting as a responsible brake on that conduct, you have them amplifying it,” said Norm Eisen, a former Obama White House ethics lawyer.
Trump’s calls for protests on social media — which included another weekend Truth Social post with an all caps call to “Protest, Protest, Protest!!! — risked reminding voters of his conduct leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol, when he encouraged supporters to travel to Washington, D.C., promising it would be “wild.”
Some Republicans were quick to tamp down Trump’s calls for demonstrations this time around.
“I believe that people understand that if they give voice to this, if this occurs on Tuesday, that they need to do so peacefully and in a lawful manner,” Pence told ABC News.
McCarthy jumped into a familiar role, walking a careful line between rejecting Trump’s call while downplaying the rhetoric.
“I don’t think people should protest this, no. We want calmness out there,” he said Sunday as Republicans met for an annual retreat in Orlando.
“I think President Trump, if you talked to him, doesn’t believe that either. I think the thing that you may misinterpret when President Trump talks and someone says that they can protest, he’s probably referring to my tweet: educate people about what’s going on. He’s not talking in a harmful way, and nobody should.”
The former president is expected to make the Manhattan case a centerpiece of his appeal to supporters in the coming days. Trump posted numerous times to Truth Social on Sunday and Monday attacking Bragg and complaining of the “witch hunt” against him, themes that are likely to resurface during a Saturday rally in Waco, Texas.
Bragg told staff on Sunday that his office that they were preparing safeguards “so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment,” writing in an email obtained by NBC News that he will “not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”
Still, the concern of violence in the coming days has been hard to ignore. Metal barriers were unloaded near the Manhattan criminal court, and the White House on Monday said it was “always prepared” for the potential for protests.
“When it comes to Americans who want to protest, they should do it peacefully, and that is something that is incredibly important that the president has always continued to say,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “But I don’t want to get into hypotheticals from here, so I’ll just leave it there.”
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