What to Think about a Possible Trump Indictment
A quick note on news that broke last night.
Hello all, this is a very short Jackal because the Podhaskie family is dealing with some projectile vomit. We won’t say who is to blame, but her name rhymes with “The Paby” (it’s the baby and she threw up on me).
Last night the New York Times broke major news surrounding a possible indictment of Donald Trump. Basically, Manhattan prosecutors informed Trump of his right to testify before a grand jury that was pursuing his indictment for the Stormy Daniels payments. Usually, such a move is an indication that an indictment is imminent. Here is what the NYT said:
The prosecutors offered Mr. Trump the chance to testify next week before the grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the potential case, the people said. Such offers almost always indicate an indictment is close; it would be unusual for the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, to notify a potential defendant without ultimately seeking charges against him.
In New York, potential defendants have the right to answer questions in the grand jury before they are indicted, but they rarely testify, and Mr. Trump is likely to decline the offer. His lawyers could also meet privately with the prosecutors in hopes of fending off criminal charges.
If you’ll recall, I wrote a lot about Bragg and his charging decisions (or lack thereof, at least when it comes to Trump) regarding Trump’s taxes, which is distinct from this case. Here is what I previously said:
A relevant cite here, I think, is the recent decision by Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, to hold off on prosecuting Trump in New York. That decision has been heavily criticized, most obviously by the actual prosecutors working on the case, who said they were 100% ready to indict Trump.
Bragg’s decision is a great example of how federal prosecutors have changed their tactics over the past few decades. You see, the Manhattan DA selected two former prosecutors, Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, to investigate Trump. Both of them resigned earlier this year after Bragg basically said he didn’t see enough evidence to indict Trump.
Pomerantz and Dunne are, indeed, both former prosecutors. But Pomerantz left that role in 1982, and Dunne not shortly after that. Since then, federal prosecutions have become much more risk-averse; in his resignation letter, Pomerantz openly conceded that a conviction was not “guaranteed” in his case against Trump, but that one should be brought anyway. For someone like Bragg - who joined the Southern District of New York in 2009 - that is a red flag. Nowadays, federal prosecutors rarely bring cases that they don’t know they can win. Factor in that Michael Cohen - not exactly a person of high character - would have to be a witness in the case, and you can see why Bragg punted on the case. And I’m not saying that Bragg’s decision should be endorsed, but it is just a reality about how federal prosecutions have changed since Pomerantz and Dunne were cutting their teeth.
The new case that is apparently going to be brought against Trump is related to the hush-money payments made to Stormy Daniels just prior to the 2016 election. Although what I wrote above was more related to the potential tax violations currently facing the Trump Organization, a lot of it still applies, and it makes me question the aggressiveness of the NYT’s reporting. The Washington Post confirmed the Times’s scoop, but was more hesitant:
The grand jury notification — alerting Trump of his opportunity to appear before the secret panel — could signify that the state prosecutor’s investigation is winding down. It remains unclear whether Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg will seek an indictment at the end of the process.
My emphasis. An indictment in this case is kind of the bankiest of all bank shots, but - as well all know - bank shots still go in. Why is it a bank shot? For one, this is not really Bragg’s case to bring. As you will recall, Trump’s former attorney - Michael Cohen - was indicted in 2018 for Federal campaign finance law violations. Federal is the key word there. Bragg is essentially taking those Federal charges and morphing them into his own.
That doesn’t mean the charges themself aren’t warranted. In fact, I wrote about why Cohen’s Campaign Finance violations were so crystal clear and obvious way back in 2018. But then I subsequently said that Trump was unlikely to be charged in the case simply because prosecutors wouldn’t be that interested (we are coming up on the statue of limitations for such charges anyway, at least in Trump’s case). Here is something I have heard about the case that is pretty shocking: Federal prosecutors were initially interested in bringing charges against Trump in January 2021 simply because his violation of the law was so obvious. However, they passed on doing so because they assumed he would be indicted for something else eventually. True story.
Regardless, I think that is going to end up being true. I wrote a few weeks ago that Trump will be indicted this year, and by all indications 2023 is going to be a bad time for Trump. But overall, I think we have to consider three things:
An indictment does not mean Trump will be found guilty.
An indictment may increase Trump’s popularity amongst the GOP base.
A conviction may not actually matter.
What I have generally felt about Trump is that his Presidency effectively ended the second his National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, was indicted by Robert Mueller. That month Congress passed a major tax bill and Trump signed it, but after that he accomplished essentially nothing significant. His Administration was buried in scandals and he generally flopped from one of them to the next one, and then COVID hit.
The whole thing was that Trump’s presidency just chugged along, like a tiny motorbike running on egg roll grease. Instead of resigning like President Nixon did, Trump just kept riding his motorbike into downtown Poopsville. My guess is that he basically employs the same strategy this time around, and bets on everyone being afraid to send a former President (and current candidate) to jail.
It remains to be seen whether any of this will actually stop Trump, or if he will just aimlessly wander around America while waiting for his time in court and/or his time on the debate stage with Meatball Ron DeSantis.
Sorry for the short Jackal, but my daughter did some ralphing, which is my favorite term for throwing up. I’ll see you all next week.