March 22, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Drip drip drip of the Trump indictment story previews 2024
If we’re going to question his influence while under indictment, we have to face that we’ve been questioning it for five straight days.
With a grand jury in New York City expected to reconvene today, Donald Trump hinted that he maybe kinda sorta won’t be arrested. According to the Post, he “shared on social media a news report suggesting that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg could take a pass on prosecuting him — while he continued to attack Bragg.”
Over the weekend, he said he expected to be taken into custody Tuesday on charges related to a hush-money scheme involving the actor Stormy Daniels. Since, there’s been intense focus on the possibility of an unprecedented indictment of a former president.
So far nothing’s happened.
And now Trump says it might not.
Did we fall for it again? Maybe.
What’s certain is that amid all the questions about his influence over the Republican Party and US politics, he was flexing that influence.
The press and pundit corps have talked about investigations nonstop. Trump’s call for J6-style “protests” rattled law enforcement in Manhattan and the Capitol. If we’re going to question his influence, we have to face that we’ve been questioning it for five straight days.
This might be a preview of what’s in store for the coming presidential election. He can’t stop the investigations in New York (hush money), Georgia (electoral interference) and Washington (classified documents), but he can bend and distort the public’s understanding of those investigations using information provided by his attorneys.
He did much the same during Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He’d be briefed on its status, then send out tweets casting himself as a victim of a witch hunt, a line that was repeated by his allies in the rightwing media apparatus.
Investigators are rightly being cautious. This is a former president we’re talking about, after all. Trump is likely trying to make them act more cautious, perhaps even fearful, by bending the country’s attention away from him and back to the investigators, casting them as needing to prove they are not part of a “Soros-backed” conspiracy against him.
We can be certain investigators in Georgia and Washington are watching Alvin Bragg carefully. If he does bring an indictment, and if that does not unbalance the world, they will likely follow suit.
Already, Jack Smith, special counsel investigating Trump’s theft of government secrets, has told a federal judge that Trump “knowingly and deliberately misled his own attorneys about his retention of classified materials after leaving office,” according to ABC News.
In a sealed filing, ABC News reported, the judge “wrote last week that prosecutors in special counsel Jack Smith’s office had made a ‘prima facie showing that the former president had committed criminal violations,’ according to the sources, and that attorney-client privileges invoked by two of his lawyers could therefore be pierced.”
Trump’s gambit, politically, doesn’t come without risks. The more he bends and distorts the public’s understanding of the investigations against him, the more room he makes for someone like Ron DeSantis to say, “Hey, I’m the guy who isn’t under indictment – vote for me.”
But that must face the reality of the rightwing media apparatus, which is driven by profit above all. Bloomberg Opinion’s Jonathan Bernstein said that “if wall-to-wall coverage of Trump legal proceedings turns out to be ratings gold, they will stick with it and Trump will benefit.”
“But if their viewers would rather hear about woke politics and Hunter Biden,” Bernstein added, “Trump might quickly seem like yesterday’s news. A drop-off in media coverage in turn could dampen Trump’s support among Republican primary voters who like the former president but aren’t sold on him as the 2024 nominee.”
DeSantis may seem like a safe alternative, but he doesn’t have 40 years’ worth of experience manipulating the press corps, as Trump has. If nothing else, these five straight days of wall-to-wall coverage of his legal proceedings – will he be indicted or won’t he? – suggests that Donald Trump won’t be yesterday’s news for a very long time.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.