Trump indictment could perversely boost his 2024 campaign
MAnhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg may be set to file criminal charges against Donald Trump, the kind of moment that would doom many political careers.
Still, Trump is likely to find that being the subject of such a landmark legal action would lend a boost, and potentially a boost, to his latest presidential bid. It’s already arrived.
When he was first impeached in late 2019, his re-election campaign raised millions of dollars, telling his supporters it was a “deranged” effort by Washington’s elite to stop it. When the FBI executed a search warrant against the president’s former Mar-a-Lago club in August for classified documents he kept there, his approval ratings among Republicans rose and a political group associate has seen an increase in donations.
Now a Manhattan grand jury, convened by Bragg, is weighing an indictment as it hears evidence of an alleged silent payment Trump allegedly made to porn actor Stormy Daniels weeks before the US election. 2016. Trump reportedly wanted to block Daniels from speaking publicly about what she said was a consensual affair with Trump in 2006. Bragg is reportedly considering arguing that the payments amounted to illegal campaign donations because news of an affair would have could hurt Trump’s campaign.
Daniels met with Manhattan prosecutors on Wednesday, she said attorney. And former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified before the grand jury this week. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign violations he said were part of a scheme to help Trump pay Daniels.
Trump’s legal team seized on the possibility that an indictment could boost Trump’s political fortunes in order to scare Bragg from pressing charges. “If they take this case, I think it will catapult him into the White House,” Trump’s defense attorney Joe Tacopina told MSNBC on Tuesday. An indictment against Trump, Tacopina added, “will show how they weaponize the justice system. They take the vote out of the hands of voters.
Trump currently faces more legal investigations than any former president in history. He is under scrutiny from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for trying to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia, and Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith is investigating the management by Trump of classified documents and his efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat. Last year, Bragg declined to press charges against Trump for allegedly misleading lenders and insurers about the value of his properties.
Trump has survived decades of lawsuits and investigators nipping at his heels. Amid years of high-profile investigations into whether he or his associates colluded with Russia, or his role in a deadly riot against the Capitol, the prospect of Trump being indicted for his alleged efforts to cover up an affair may seem disappointing to even many of its detractors. Trump said he would continue his presidential campaign if indicted.
The charges related to the Daniels’ silent payments would be “old news to most people,” says Whit Ayres, a Republican strategist and pollster, and “he could easily pass this off as just a liberal Democratic vendetta against him.”
An impeachment by Bragg, Ayres adds, would have “much less effect than an impeachment in Georgia or by the Department of Justice would because a Democratic New York prosecutor would do it.”
Hogan Gidley, a former White House spokesman for Trump who still speaks regularly to Trump, agrees the former president’s 2024 campaign would be able to leverage the criminal charges.
“It definitely angers people that the government and other entities are attacking someone in this way, and it absolutely increases support” for Trump, Gidley says.
Trump, who refuses to admit he legitimately lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden, announced his presidential bid in December. More than two years after losing to Biden at the polls, Trump still enjoys strong support among Republicans. But he failed to clear the field of challengers until 2024, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has not officially launched a presidential campaign, is attracting strong attention from GOP donors and in the surveys. During a campaign speech in Iowa on Monday, Trump slammed DeSantis, calling him Ron “DeSanctimonious.”
After federal agents searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club last year, many Republicans, including DeSantis, rallied behind Trump and criticized the action. A similar pattern is likely to unfold if Bragg indicts Trump.
Hans von Spakovsky, who manages the election law reform initiative at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC, said the case Bragg is pursuing is questionable. Silent money payments themselves aren’t illegal, he says, and a local prosecutor shouldn’t even prosecute a case focused on alleged campaign violations. Such cases, he argues, belong to federal prosecutors with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission who are aware of Cohen’s guilty plea related to campaign violations since 2018 laws, none of them thought it was a violation” that was worth accusing Trump of.
Von Spakovsky thinks a possible indictment by the Manhattan district attorney would only reinforce the strong feelings most Americans already have about Trump.
“The world is split in two halves,” von Spakovsky says, “and I suspect people who are really big Trump supporters will say, ‘See, that’s another sign of how people who hate him are ready to do anything to catch him.’ Whereas I think people on the other side who don’t like Trump will say, “See, that shows how bad he is.”
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