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Charges pile up against former US president Donald Trump, even as his presidential run gets stronger

Charges pile up against former US president Donald Trump, even as his presidential run gets stronger
Former US President Donald J Trump sits in the courtroom for his arraignment in New York Criminal Court in New York, New York, US on 44 April, 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Seth Wenig)

Yet another set of indictments hit Trump on Thursday 3 August, this time charging that he and his team tried to subvert some basic tenets of the country’s democratic traditions. Will he finally be cut down to size? Or will his argument that it was his right to say whatever he pleased trump the reality about the mendacity of his administration and his extraordinary efforts to hold onto office, despite the voters’ choice in 2020?

By the time you read these words, Donald Trump — former president and current front-runner to be renominated as the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidency in 2024 — will have been arraigned for the third time on criminal charges, presumably around 4pm in Washington, DC (11pm in South Africa). This time, after undergoing arraignments in New York City and Florida, the charges will be made in Washington, DC.  

The newest charges stem from his role in pursuing a palpably false narrative about his having won the 2020 presidential election, then trying to overturn the actual result, and, finally, encouraging a violent mob to seize the Capitol Building in an (ultimately unsuccessful) effort to prevent Joe Biden from being declared the winner in the electoral vote count. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Donald Trump criminally charged over efforts to overturn 2020 US election

In the two previous indictments, first, the prosecutor in New York City is seeking his conviction for having violated campaign finance laws by illegally diverting funds in an elaborate scheme in order to use those funds to pay off an adult film actress with whom he had an affair so as to buy her silence as he pursued his first presidential bid. There are some who argue this charge stretches the appropriateness of the laws being cited, although the basic shenanigans have gone largely unchallenged. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Trump loses bid to move New York hush money case to federal court

In the second case, charges have been filed in Florida by special prosecutor Jack Smith over the mishandling of highly classified documents unlawfully retained by Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club and stored in totally inappropriate locations inside the club. And then, that he refused to return them to the government after repeated requests by the relevant agencies. A number of documents were so highly classified they should never have been outside a secure controlled access facility, rather than thrown willy-nilly into boxes heaped up in a bathroom and shower stall. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: US says Trump ordered video deleted, charges second employee in documents case

A pair of the club’s supernumeraries have now been charged as well with attempting to destroy electronic recordings of the goings-on with those documents as they were shifted around in the storerooms of that club. 

Meanwhile, the Fulton County (Atlanta, Georgia) prosecutor, Fani Willis, is moving closer to indicting Trump over illegal efforts to get Georgia’s vote totals changed by fiat so that Trump could get closer to an electoral win in 2020. Control over voting regulation and management largely falls to the 50 states in the US, rather than at the national level, except for some financial regulation and violations of the civil right to vote. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Trump aide charged with obstruction in classified documents case to appear in court

But the charges central to Thursday’s arraignment will almost certainly result in unprecedented legal fireworks as the accused’s lawyers will bring into the proceedings the idea that anything — true, false, or even positively delusional — the ex-president says or said was protected speech under the American Constitution’s sacrosanct First Amendment. 

In response to such an assertion and its criticality in his defence in the  upcoming trials, historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote in her Wednesday night news blog, “since the [newest] indictment became public, Trump loyalists have insisted that the Department of Justice is attacking Trump’s First Amendment rights to free speech. Indeed, if [Rudy] Giuliani’s unhinged appearance on Newsmax last night is any indication, it appears that has been their strategy all along. Aside from the obvious limit that the First Amendment does not cover criminal behavior, the grand jury sidestepped this issue by acknowledging that Trump had a right to lie about his election loss. It indicted him for unlawfully trying to obstruct an official proceeding and to disenfranchise voters. [Italics added] 

“Today, Trump’s former attorney general William Barr dismissed the idea that the indictment is an attack on Trump’s First Amendment rights. Barr told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins: ‘As the indictment says, they’re not attacking his First Amendment right. He can say whatever he wants. He can even lie. 

“He can even tell people that the election was stolen when he knew better. But that does not protect you from entering into a conspiracy. All conspiracies involve speech. And all fraud involves speech. Free speech doesn’t give you the right to engage in a fraudulent conspiracy.’”

Cox Richardson then went on to describe Trump defender Rudy Giuliani’s own legal troubles, “unrelated to the attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election. His former assistant Noelle Dunphy is suing him for sexual harassment and abuse, and new transcripts filed in the New York Supreme Court of Giuliani’s own words reveal disturbing fantasies of sexual domination that are unlikely to help his reputation…” That, of course, is beyond his embarrassing incidents of using a landscape company’s parking lot for a media conference (instead of a larney hotel with almost the same name or black hair dye dripping down his temples at another appearance). 

All of the indictments, pre-trial motions, Jacob Zuma-esque delaying tactics, and then even the eventual trials will become features of a fiendishly complex schedule for the former chief executive as he tries to campaign for his party’s nomination for the presidency. There are no real, fixed dates yet for the trials for his miscellaneous legal troubles, although the Florida case is now set for sometime in May 2024. The teams of lawyers and the various judges will have to sort all this out in what will be a charged, near-toxic atmosphere, going forward. 

However, the first two primaries and caucuses for the presidential nomination occur in January. Campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa are especially retail exercises of convincing one voter and one caucus delegate at a time to support one. Merging that campaign schedule with what may evolve from all the eventual trials will become difficult, and a challenge for someone known to be given to extemporaneous, ad hoc decisions about his public appearances more generally. 

Still the Republicans’ leading light

Even so, at least for now, Donald Trump appears to have a commanding lead over any — or all — of the other contenders for the Republican nomination, despite the fact not a single vote has yet been cast. And this lead comes as those indictments pile up. Analysts argue Trump has been effective among many Republican Party supporters in portraying those indictments as proof the so-called deep state/the media/Democratic Party forces have orchestrated a persecution of him. Accordingly, his resilience is a demonstration of the power of his message about those evil designs and the need for voters to stand by him.  

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is his nearest competitor, but his popularity continues to sink nationally, despite a highly publicised re-set of his campaign. Unfortunately for DeSantis, as one wag put it, the more you know him, the less you like him. His culture war efforts in Florida secured his reelection against a lacklustre opponent, but beyond more Republican Party-leaning parts of his state, the “war on woke” and his assault on the Disney Corporation (the state’s biggest single employer) over its presumed tolerant stance towards the LGBTI community have not translated into a wave of national support.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: DeSaster? Ron DeSantis wants to preside over Trumpism without Trump

The rest of the gaggle of a dozen other declared candidates are — at least at present — barely registering in polling terms. Those candidates who have criticised Trump (albeit tepidly, save for former New Jersey Chris Christie) are close to being rounding errors in the polling statistics at this point. The next dipstick test of feeling among Republicans — after the most recent indictment has been worked itself into the national zeitgeist — will come in a public debate platform open to all declared candidates who meet minimum standards of support and fundraising as set by the Republican National Committee. One straw in that particular breeze will be to see who does not qualify (former Vice President Mike Pence may not), while another one of those straws will be if Donald Trump even bothers to participate in the cattle call of a debate. 

Meanwhile, of course, incumbent President Biden’s team are busy trying to figure out how the domestic economic good news — low unemployment, falling inflation, millions of new jobs created, growing infrastructure and manufacturing plant investment — can help encourage better, stronger, more energetic support for the president in his circumstances as his party’s near-certain candidate.  

The quixotic candidacy of former congressman Robert F Kennedy Jr — a conspiracy theorist and noted anti-vaxxer — for the nomination is unlikely to upset the Biden candidacy. However, the unexpected downgrade of the US government’s financial circumstances by the Fitch ratings agency and those embarrassing congressional investigations and largely fact-free charges about the president’s son’s personal finances will be irritants, to say the least. 

If things continue as they are, the American voter will be offered a choice between a possibly convicted (by then) felon and serial political fantasiser in the person of Donald Trump versus the incumbent president. The latter is someone who on some days delivers on his promise of no-nonsense governing style but on others seems to be every bit his eighty years of age, with his garrulous verbal wanderings. The Clintonian adage that in the presidential sweepstakes “It is the economy, stupid” may be put to the test by so many other worries in 2024. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • douglas wade says:

    What baffles me is how Trump retains the support of the Christian or evangelical groups when he is a walking definition of most of the seven deadly sins. Is it perhaps, that he is reviving the ancestral fears of slave owners for the ever present possibility of their slaves’ revolt; with the modern extension of slaves to include anyone of colour or of opposing views? They then live in continual fear and “know” that to survive they must hate and destroy any perceived dissenters. This, if true, cannot be a happy or a stable society.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      The world is brimming with stupid people, and people who are just in it for the money.

      Trump just feeds the stupid what they want to hear. Like taking candy from a baby if one has no moral compass.

      • ian hurst says:

        “The world is brimming with stupid people.” Indeed it is. Trump tried to stop illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. Are people “stupid” to want that? Trump tried to stop the corruption in Washington. You would be “stupid” not to want that. Trump tried to curtail China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and to neutralise North Korea. Perhaps the “stupid” people are the ones who swallow the left’s relentless anti-Trump propaganda.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          Sorry Ian – sadly I can say with certainty there is no cure.

        • douglas wade says:

          Can you demonstrate how Trump succeeded in reducing drug smuggling, Chinese aggression or North Korean missiles and black marketeering? Then perhaps you can tell us how much money he and his daughter made in China during his time in office.

          • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

            Hey @douglas – thanks for input and good luck! Sadly, in my experience engagements with consumers of Trump’s narrative are unlikely to yield a positive outcome as they entertain only the self-serving aspects and blinker everything else. I literally feel sorry for them in their naivete, as I do for our planet, currently under siege by megalomaniac narcissistic toddler sociopaths, in whose number Trump is without doubt included (along with his good buddy Putin)

          • ian hurst says:

            I do not think Trump was the best president ever, just that he does not deserve the oprobium heaped on him. Trump’s wall certainly helped control the border, Bidens “Open border” policy has led to more illegal immigration and increased drug smuggling. North Korea missile “tests” have increased since Trump left. No, you will have to tell me “how much money he and his daughter made in China during his time in office.” I do not know, and please quote your source.

          • ian hurst says:

            These are the numbers of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Rio Grande (Source US Border Patrol: look it up!) 2017: 500,000, 2018: 500,000, 2019: 1,000,000, 2020: 500,000, 2021: 1,750,000, 2022: 2,500,000. Drug smugglers included! QED? I think so!

          • ian hurst says:

            You will have to tell me “how much money he and his daughter made in China during his time in office.” I do not know, and please quote your source. The reason I think that the answer is “not one dollar” is that the legacy media have not picked up on it, and he has not been indicted for such a thing, as he surely would have if there was any truth.

    • andrew farrer says:

      because these”evangelicals” and in the most part, not proper christians. The only pick whatever scriptures they like and twist them to only apply to certain groups.

  • ian hurst says:

    Trump may have done some illegal things, but it is difficult to believe that the indictments are not the Democrats trying to get rid of a political opponent. It is not illegal to pay off an ex-mistress. Trump, as President, was allowed to take home certain documents, at Mar-a-Lago the whole property was guarded by the FBI. Biden on the other hand, as only Vice President, was not allowed to take home such documents, where they were strewn around his unguarded garage! Biden’s lawyers were alerted before the FBI asked to see the documents, Trump’s house was raided, and charges brought. Trump has good reason to believe that the election was skewed. Look at the FBI and media (including DM) suppressing The Laptop From Hell just before the last election, which would certainly have swayed some voters. Some ballot boxes were stuffed, perhaps not enough to materially change the results, but certainly enough to inflame his January 6th supporters.
    Many lawyers think that the charges brought against Trump are very weak, including the last lot where the prosecutor will have to prove that Trump thought the the election was fair! The timing of all these charges is indicative of the Democrats’ political motives. Stormy Daniels was more than a decade ago! the contested election was three years ago!

    • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

      Stupid me! I thought that there were only Trump supporters in the narrow-minded part of the US republican party. A lie a day makes the truth go away.

  • Rae Earl says:

    It’s going to be fascinating to see the popular vote numbers in the US elections next year. In 2020 around 81.2 million voted for Biden and 74.2 million voted for Trump with around 3 million going elsewhere. Despite the massive support of the lunatic fringe for Trump, there must surely be a huge drop-off in his support by balanced and intelligent citizens in the Republican ranks. They will simply refuse to accept the ongoing acceleration in Trump’s narcissistic disorder and hero worship of himself. If Republicans win the vote America will truly see the dark side of life under a revived megalomaniac who will consider his having received carte blanche permission to do as he pleases for another 4 years.

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