Of all the accusations and lawsuits that have swirled around Donald Trump, it’s not the one many of us thought would bring the man down. Trump has faced far worse allegations, primarily the ongoing defamation and battery suit brought against him by the journalist E Jean Carroll, and the accusation, via the January 6 committee, that he disrupted the peaceful transition of power. But it is the return of Stormy Daniels, the porn star elevated to Greek goddess of vengeance, that may deliver to the world an image many have longed to see: Trump in cuffs.
To that end, all police in New York were ordered to be in uniform this week and on standby for immediate deployment. At the weekend, Trump urged his supporters to “protest, protest, protest” ahead of what he advertised as his likely arrest on Tuesday, after a grand jury in the Manhattan criminal court inched closer to a possible indictment. As it turns out, no arrest has yet been made. But the accusations against Trump, which relate to his alleged payment of hush money to Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, appeared to be on the verge of triggering an arrest order from the Manhattan district attorney’s office. If it happens, it will be the first time criminal charges have been brought against a former president.
The charges themselves are two-step and complicated, turning on a matter of alleged falsification of business records in the interests of furthering Trump’s election prospects. If Trump paid hush money to Daniels via his fixer, Michael Cohen, then lied about it, the DA’s office will try to contend that this constitutes not only a misdemeanour crime of cover-up, but a more serious felony entailing “intent to defraud”. The $130,000 paid to Daniels may then be framed as an improper campaign donation.
It’s all very Al Capone and the bean-counters, which is to say not exactly a snappy charge for the headlines. Nor does it carry a particularly stiff penalty. The maximum prison sentence for a minor felony such as this is four years and it’s extremely hard to imagine Trump getting jail time. If the intention is to publicly embarrass Trump, that seems destined to backfire, too, given the man’s super-human levels of shamelessness. The maximal end point here would, presumably, be to tie Trump up sufficiently to edge him out of the next presidential election. Not a splashy outcome, but a potentially far-reaching one.
The cost and the risk involved is considerable. In terms of the former, the mere fact of seeing his face on the news this week is a return to a place many of us don’t want to go. Accountability of any kind, no matter how small, would of course be satisfying in a way, but on the other hand, what mightn’t we give for the bliss of never hearing about this man ever again? Watching the news, I found myself wondering if I would, in fact, sacrifice revenge and justice, poetic or otherwise, for an entirely Trump-free existence.
Anyway, that’s not on the cards. The bigger issue with any potential arrest of Trump is what it may do to his election chances. History has taught us that Trump can turn any publicity, no matter how negative, into a persecution narrative that only fans the conspiratorial mindset of his most ardent supporters. At the weekend, as he went the full Joan of Arc and urged his defenders to go out on the streets to protest for him, it was hard to escape the conclusion that he was thoroughly enjoying himself, and that he would far rather be arrested than ignored.
It’s best with Trump to get the disappointment out of the way, to dash your own hopes before anyone else does. As the story unfolds, I’m getting in early and trying to come to terms with how it may all play out: the arrest happens, Trump is arraigned and tried, there’s no conviction, and he leverages the attention to stir up his base so that we don’t see the back of him for years. Now universe, prove me wrong!
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