Former US President Donald Trump traveled from Florida to New York on Monday 3 April, where he was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday after a grand jury in Manhattan indicted him following investigations into a case related to $130,000 in "hush money" paid to the adult film star Stormy Daniels leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. The payment aimed to cover up Daniels’ alleged affair with Trump. Trump is the first current or former US president to face criminal changes.
Repercussions of the Indictment
The Manhattan grand jury’s indictment of former President Trump, who has already announced that he will run in the November 2024 US presidential elections, has numerous implications, including the following:
1. Further criminal investigation of Trump: The proceedings against Trump for paying hush money to Daniels will encourage the two prosecutors leading the case to proceed with investigating other potential charges and to try to get a conviction before the upcoming election. Now that the first step has been taken, this course of action is easier to justify. There are two other ongoing investigations against the former president. The first has to do with whether Trump illegally attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election result following his defeat in the state of Georgia, where Biden won by a narrow margin. Secondly, there are investigations into his mishandling of classified government documents after leaving office. Trump is also under investigation in a federal appeals court for his role in the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, as Congress was in the process of certifying the Democratic victory in the 2020 presidential elections. However, Trump has not been charged in this last case yet.
2. Questions about the US judicial system: The grand jury in Manhattan has leveled criminal charges against former US President Trump and criminal proceedings are ongoing, which could lead to further criminal charges. On the one hand, this is a testament to the rule of law and strength of the US judicial system. However, it also raises questions about whether the current US administration will use the case to go after its political adversaries and whether charges against Trump are politically motivated. Some political analysts have observed that concerns about the validity of the judicial proceedings are more pronounced given the extreme partisan polarization in the US. In other words, Trump’s supporters feel that the system is biased while his detractors also feel it is ineffective.
3. Pro-Trump rallies continue to grow: The decision to indict the former US president has provoked outcry among Trump supporters in Florida, who feel that their candidate is the target of a conspiracy. Dozens of Trump supporters gathered around his Florida residence to protest the Manhattan district attorney’s decision. Many Republicans rejected the Trump indictment on the grounds that it was politically motivated. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 93% of Republicans and 62% of Americans believe that the charges against Trump are politically driven. This could lead to further protests and violence during court proceedings against Trump.
4. Widening political rift in the US: The criminal charges against former President Trump will exacerbate existing partisan divisions in the US at a time when there is a growing need for political consensus to overcome various issues facing the country. Democratic and Republican lawmakers are divided over Trump’s indictment. Republicans agree that the charges are politically motivated. For example, US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy vowed that the district attorney pressing charges would be "held accountable." Meanwhile, Democrats expressed their confidence in the judicial system, emphasized that no one was above the law, and rejected Republican claims that the case was politicized. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Trump was "subject to the same laws as every American" and that it was up to the jury to "determine his fate according to the facts and to the law."
Trump Gains Momentum
The Manhattan grand jury’s indictment of the former US president has raised questions about how the case will impact Trump’s chances of making it onto the Republican ticket in the upcoming presidential elections. There are various indications that the ongoing charges bolster Trump’s chances, including the following reasons:
1. Trump back in the media spotlight: The US is facing many foreign policy challenges, especially regarding whether Russia is using nuclear weapons against Ukraine, Moscow’s recent detainment of a US correspondent, and the Taiwanese president’s visit to the US during a tense period in US-China relations. Nevertheless, US media across the political spectrum is instead focused on the criminal charges against former President Trump, who is once again dominating the US news cycle. Trump believes that all publicity is good publicity and that this coverage will bolster his popularity with his base.
2. Republican party leaders rally behind Trump: Although some Republicans have been seeking an alternate candidate to Trump for the upcoming elections, many Republican officials have now rallied behind Trump, including some of his potential rivals for the 2024 ticket. Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said that the indictment was "a blatant abuse of power from a [district attorney] focused on political vengeance instead of keeping people safe." Former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential candidate for the 2024 elections, said on CNN that the "unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States" was "an outrage." Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, who is likely to run in the 2024 elections, denounced the "weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda" and vowed that Florida would not cooperate with investigations against Trump.
3. No negative impacts for Trump’s 2024 chances: According to a Quinnipiac University poll, 1 in 4 Republicans believe that the charges against Trump should disqualify him from running for president, compared to 57% of all Americans. However, it seems the criminal charges will not affect Trump’s chances to run for a second term because neither an indictment nor a conviction would prevent Trump from running for office under US law. The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution does prevent a person who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion against" the US from holding state or federal office. The media is concerned with the mounting criminal charges against Trump, but Trump is continuing to successfully reach out to donors and pursue his campaign.
In conclusion, criminal charges against former President Trump mark the first indictment at this level in the US. However, prosecuting a former president or prime minister has not been an uncommon occurrence in other democratic countries over the past two decades. According to a New York Times report published on 31 March, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac of France, Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, and Silvio Berlusconi of Italy have all been convicted of corruption charges over the last fifteen years. Criminal charges have been leveled against democratically-elected former leaders in Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, and Taiwan. The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is also currently facing corruption charges.