What it means that Donald Trump has at last been indicted: The day that has long been imagined by opponents of Donald Trump has finally arrived. It may not lead to a conviction, but it is a step towards accountability for history’s most rule-flouting president.
Donald Trump Headed to Jail?
The news dropped like a bomb on Thursday afternoon: Donald Trump will be indicted in Manhattan after a grand jury voted to charge the former president.
The indictment itself remains under seal, so it’s not clear precisely what the former president will be charged with, but the indictment is real, as confirmed by the office of District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Reports the previous day had stated that the grand jury would be taking a break for most or all of April, indicating that no indictment decision would be made for several weeks. But the vote, it appears, took place Thursday. Trump becomes the first former president ever to be indicted on criminal charges.
What Happens Next?
Per the New York Times, Trump is likely to be taken into custody on Tuesday, the day that those opposed to Trump have been waiting for for many years. That day, the specific charges will be unsealed and announced. CNN analyst John Miller said on television Thursday that his sources say the indictment contains 34 counts of falsifying business records. Still, much remains unknown about the exact nature of the charges.
Trump has been under some type of investigation for many years, and his opponents have been disappointed by the outcomes of quite a few of those, starting with the Mueller investigation. So much of the anti-Trump imagination over the years, from the fight to gain access to his taxes to all the different probes, has led to an eventual endgame involving Trump in cuffs, and maybe even in prison. Many such people, though, had been resigned to that never happening.
There’s been plenty of that on the right in the Trump era, as well, from the “lock her up” chants on the campaign trail in 2016 to QAnon’s fever dreams of mass arrests of the entire “cabal.” On Thursday, there were numerous instances of pro-Trump media members comparing Trump’s indictment to something that would happen in a “third world country,” while Donald Trump Jr. called the arrest “communist-level shit,” and declared that “this is stuff that would make Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, it would make them blush.” All three of those dictators, of course, were mass murderers who went very far beyond merely indicting politicians.
I could imagine the mug shot of Trump becoming an instantly iconic image for both those who love the president and those who hate him.
Yes, there has been some talk that the case isn’t the strongest one of all time or even the strongest case among the different current Trump grand jury probes. But if Bragg thinks he has a strong enough case to charge, he shouldn’t let “Trump and his fans might get mad” stand in the way of bringing it. No one is above the law, even a former president.
If the case isn’t strong enough? Trump will have his day in court, and that’s why we have such things as trials.
And besides, even if the legal theory behind the case is novel and not quite a slam dunk, it remains almost certain that Trump had an extramarital assignation with a famous porn star at a time that his wife had recently given birth to his child, that he agreed to pay her hush money, that he engaged in fudging of business records to pay that money, and that he lied about various aspects of this for years afterward.
The most poetic justice imaginable would probably be for Trump to be tried and convicted for his actions on January 6 and in his attempts to overturn the election that he lost, whether by the special counsel or the Georgia grand jury (or both). That’s probably the most egregious crime he committed as president, and the thing most deserving of punishment. (Sure, certain acts were morally worse, starting with the child separations, but that’s not the sort of action that could ever be charged as a crime.) But justice can be complicated.
Is the subject of the Manhattan indictment the worst crime or misdeed committed by Donald Trump in the last decade? Probably not. It might even make the top ten. But it still may very well be a crime or possibly even 34 of them.
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Expertise and Experience:
Stephen Silver is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive. He is an award-winning journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.