Donald Trump sensationally claims he “expects” to be arrested on Tuesday as prosecutors consider charges over a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
But will a potential arrest and a high-profile trial hurt or help galvanise his 2024 campaign to be re-elected as US President?
What is the probe about?
The grand jury has been probing Trump’s involvement in a $130,000 payment made in 2016 to the porn actor Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about a sexual encounter she said she had with him years earlier.
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, through a shell company before being reimbursed by Trump, whose company, the Trump Organization, logged the reimbursements as legal expenses.
Earlier in 2016, Cohen also arranged for former Playboy model Karen McDougal to be paid $150,000 by the publisher of the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer, which then squelched her story in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill.”
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations tied to his arranging payments to Daniels and another woman in exchange for their silence among other crimes. He has said Trump directed him to make the payments.
What did Donald Trump actually say on any arrest?
Trump says charges would actually help him in the 2024 presidential contest.
Writing on his Truth Social app, he said: “Illegal leaks from a corrupt & highly political Manhattan district attorney’s office ... indicate that, with no crime being able to be proven ... the far & away leading Republican candidate & former president of the United States of America, will be arrested on Tuesday of next week”.
He has denied the affair happened and called the investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, a witch hunt.
“Protest, take our nation back!” said Trump, whose supporters stormed the US Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021, to try to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
Is it possible for a former president to stand trial?
In a word, yes. Longstanding Justice Department policy prohibits the federal indictment of a sitting president, but Trump, two years out of office, no longer enjoys that legal shield. And the New York case is not a federal probe anyway.
One of Trump’s defences he could use is whether the statute of limitations - five years in this instance - should have run out.
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But in New York, the statute of limitations can be extended if the defendant has been out of state - Trump could say that serving as US president should not apply.
Will Trump be seen in handcuffs?
Anna Cominsky, a New York Law School professor and former criminal defence lawyer, said that her best guess is that Trump’s lawyers will work out a deal with the prosecutor’s office to avoid the spectacle of an indictment with handcuffs and a perp walk.
“There is a great likelihood that he will self-surrender, which means you won’t see a 5am knock on Mar-a-Lago’s door, officers swarming his house and arresting him and bringing him out in handcuffs,” she said. “He would appear at the prosecutor’s office voluntarily and then be processed, fingerprinted and his picture taken. ”
Cominsky is less sure that Trump would want to avoid a public appearance for his arraignment, which would come within two days of an indictment.
“He doesn’t shy away from the chaos, so he may want to use this to his advantage,” she said.
Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina told CNBC on Friday that he would surrender if charged.
If he refused to come voluntarily, prosecutors could seek to have him extradited from Florida, where he currently lives. Ironically the extradition would have to be rubber-stamped by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s strongest rival to be the Republican candidate.
What do his Republican rivals think?
Ron DeSantis offered a mixed assessment when asked to address the potential indictment on Monday.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said as some in the audience laughed uncomfortably.
“But what I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction and he chooses to go back many many years ago to try to use something about porn star hush money payments, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponising the office. And I think that’s fundamentally wrong.”
The Trump family’s response?
Donald Trump Jr. condemned DeSantis’ response as “pure weakness.”
Trump himself attacked DeSantis using his pet nickname for him, “Ron DeSanctimonious” and promoted a decades-old picture of DeSantis posing with young women when he was a high school teacher.
In a message accompanying the photo, Trump mocked DeSantis, going so far as to question his sexuality. The governor, Trump wrote, “will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!). I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!”
Who will back Trump?
Longtime ally Lindsey Graham, senator from South Carolina, said Saturday that District Attorney Bragg “has done more to help Donald Trump get elected.”
Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of just eight House Republicans who have formally endorsed Trump’s third presidential bid, said Americans should be outraged by the so-called political persecution of a former president.
If Trump is indicted, she predicted, Trump will win in a landslide.
House Republican conference chair, Rep. Elise Stefanik, remains one of Trump’s strongest supporters in Congress. She said she spoke to the former president earlier Monday.
“I think you’ll see his poll numbers go up,” predicted Stefanik, who has also signed onto Trump’s 2024 bid. “He’s never been in a stronger position.”
What will happen in New York?
It remains unclear. There has been no public announcement of any time frame for the grand jury’s secret work. A Trump spokesperson said there has been no notification from Bragg’s office.
Law enforcement officials have been making security preparations for the possibility of an indictment in coming days or weeks — or a court appearance by the president himself but any trial is not expected for at least a year.