Tuesday was the day when Donald Trump – the former real estate hustler, reality TV star, twice-impeached president and 2024 GOP frontrunner – won a new sobriquet. Now and forever, the major-domo of Mar-a-Lago will be known as the Indicted One. In fact, in all likelihood, by the end of the year, Trump could be described as the Oft-Indicted One.
The cliche on cable television, often expressed with funereal gravity, was that “this is a sad day for America”. In truth, the sad day was 8 November 2016, when Trump oozed his way into the White House. Everything that followed has inevitably flowed into the moment on Tuesday afternoon when a glum and slumped Trump was photographed glowering in a Manhattan courtroom during his arraignment on 34 felony counts. The surprising case brought by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg was more sweeping that just the $130,000 in off-the-books hush money payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. It also involved the defrocked president’s sleazy alliance with David Pecker, then the aptly named publisher of the low-rent National Enquirer, to buy stories damaging to Trump and not publish them in what Bragg called a “catch-and-kill scheme”.
Now and forever, the major-domo of Mar-a-Lago will be known as the Indicted One
With the Manhattan indictment slated to come to trial next year (probably in the midst of the Republican primaries), lawyers and pundits will have endless time to argue on cable TV whether Bragg is guilty of prosecutorial overreach. Part of the case claims that Trump conspired to violate New York state election laws with his porn-star cover-up even though Hillary Clinton carried the non-swing state by 1.5m votes.
What is unequivocally clear, though, is that Trump approached bribery with the same lack of honor that characterized everything else in his life. Imagine Ebenezer Scrooge doling out hush money. According to the statement of facts that accompanied the indictment, Trump allegedly told his then lawyer Michael Cohen that if they could delay the $130,000 payment to Daniels until after the election, “they could avoid paying altogether, because at that point it would not matter if the story became public”.
By the time a jury is impaneled in Manhattan (and, as a local resident, I am eager to volunteer to serve as a fair and balanced juror), Trump undoubtedly will be fighting a multi-front legal war. Fani Willis, the Fulton county district attorney, is reportedly close to bringing a case under Georgia law over Trump’s 2020 attempt to pressure Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, “to find 11,780 votes”. The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the justice department is pursuing “obstruction of justice” charges against Trump over defying a subpoena for secret documents stored at Mar-a-Lago. And, of course, there is that business about Trump egging on demonstrators to storm the Capitol on 6 January 2021.
Whew. The former president has often longed for the reincarnation of Roy Cohn – the former Joseph McCarthy henchman turned shyster New York attorney – who in the 1970s schooled Trump in contempt for the law. Even an army of Cohn clones would probably not be enough to prevent Trump from spending much of the 2024 campaign in courtrooms and conferring with his overstretched legal team.
The media have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. With the slightest excuse, they revert to their 2016 all-Trump-all-the-time playbook
Watching cable TV’s nonstop, post-arraignment helicopter coverage of Trump’s 11-car motorcade heading up the FDR Drive to LaGuardia airport served as a reminder that the media – like the Bourbon monarchy – have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. With the slightest excuse, they revert to their 2016 all-Trump-all-the-time playbook.
The 2016 election also shapes the certainty by many political soothsayers that the Manhattan indictment will strengthen Trump, especially among Republicans, by turning him into the martyr of his fantasies. It is just a continuation of the belief that Trump is immune to the laws of gravity, no matter what Isaac Newton says.
Under this kind of calculus, Hillary Clinton would have won the White House in 2016 had she only had the good fortune to be indicted over her emails. Hell, Walter Mondale (13 electoral votes) probably would have beaten Ronald Reagan in 1984 if the upright former vice-president had arranged to be arrested for paying off a porn star.
Even before Bragg unsealed the indictment, pollsters were asking voters to assess the validity of the case against Trump based on vaporous news stories. This is fitting since under the constitution, guilt or innocence in criminal trials is determined by the average of the answers to three national polls.
During a chaotic press conference after the arraignment, Todd Blanche, Trump’s new lead attorney, claimed with a straight face that the former president was “motivated and it’s not going to stop him”. With more indictments in the pipeline, Trump may soon be even more motivated than such illustrious figures as Richard Nixon and deceased mob boss John Gotti.
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