The legal system in the United States baffles the world by its twists and turns. Donald Trump, who challenged every provision of the law by refusing to accept an election verdict and brought the nation to the brink of a civil war by exhorting his supporters to rebellion, is still an active political leader, who may well become the next Republican candidate for President with a chance to win. But he also became the first US President to be indicted by a grand jury for his alleged role in a scandal involving hush money payments made to a porn film actress during the 2016 Presidential election. He faces 34 felony charges of falsifying business records.
Trump surrendered to the Manhattan District Attorney on April 4 to hear the charges against him. The next in-person hearing is set for December in New York. Strangely, his declaration that he would run in the 2024 Presidential election and his campaign will not be affected by the indictment, arraignment and even conviction.
Grand jury system was adopted in the US, consequent to the Fifth amendment and every State has the option to decide on the adoption of grand jury for indictment as well as for trials. Connecticut and Pennsylvania are the only States which do not use a grand jury for indictment or for trials. In 23 States including New York, Grand jury indictments are required for certain crimes. In 25 US States, it is optional. While grand jury indictments would need only a majority, grand jury trials would need unanimous decision for conviction. India abolished the jury system of trial in 1973.
The steamy case
The case is that Trump instructed his lawyer to pay USD 130,000 to Stormy Daniels, a porno star, with whom he had an affair starting in 2006, to silence her during the Presidential campaign. But the main issues are neither the affair nor the payment, but a violation of accounting procedures by showing the payment as legal fees to the lawyer, who settled the case with the star. Trump announced that he was likely to be indicted and asked his followers to protest and the court had to make special arrangements for security. The court set the next in-person hearing for December 4, 2023, in New York. But Trump’s lawyers are trying to postpone the hearings till the elections are over in 2024.
Trump claims witch-hunt
Trump attributed his indictment to political persecution and election interference. He sent emails to his supporters asking for donations to "defend our movement from the never-ending witch hunts" and wrote that donations would have a "1,500% impact."
The 2024 Trump campaign stated that it received over $4 Million of donations in the 24 hours after the indictment was announced, and $7 million within three days. In other words, the indictment has only boosted his campaign and the matter will become irrelevant as the campaign gains momentum. His support among the Republicans has not dwindled and his criticism of the Biden Administration has only become more acute.
The setback the Republicans had in the midterm elections had strengthened the Democrats, but the Trump rhetoric is that Biden might lead the US to a world war, while the US did not go to war anywhere during the Trump Presidency. He claimed that he had warned Russian President Putin against any military operation in Ukraine and Chinese President Xi Jinping against any action against Taiwan and that they knew that he had meant business. He said that he would end the war in Ukraine within days if he came to power. Hours after his brief court appearance, Trump was more the defiant candidate than a chastened defendant when he addressed a friendly audience back home in Florida.
Presidential bid prospects
Political commentators in the US believe that the indictment will make no difference to the possibility of his being the Republican candidate and his chances of winning are real. A Wall Street Journal poll shows Trump and President Joe Biden each at 45% among registered voters in a hypothetical 2024 matchup, results that are largely unchanged since the last time WSJ asked the question in November. “Indeed, the timing might have been a boon for Mr Trump’s campaign fundraising, coming just before the end of the first quarter. It will likely add to the momentum he has gained in recent weeks over Florida Governor (and Republican rival) DeSantis,” observes the Christian Science Monitor.
Trump’s statements after leaving office that the 2020 election was stolen by the Democrats, his praise of Putin as a genius, his claim that he is an overwhelming favourite for the Republican nomination have not contributed to his credibility, but credibility had never been his strong point. Moreover, he is the least predictable of politicians. But as of now, though he is in legal trouble, it is clear that he expects to run and become President again.