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A week in America | 24th March 2023

By Martin Liptrot

By Martin Liptrot

In the latest blog from across the Atlantic, Martin discusses President Trump's impeding legal woes.

Former leaders hoping for a return to the top table have had a rather torrid week on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the UK, the fall out from ‘Partygate’ continued to dominate the airwaves and column inches and have lengthened the odds of Boris making a comeback. The weasel-words about ‘when a party isn’t a party’ and ‘what he believed to be true at the time’ have not convinced anyone bar Nadine Dorries that the mop-haired MP is suitable to lead the nation once again.

In the US, former President Trump’s dilemma is perhaps even more pronounced. He is awaiting a knock on the door from NY’s finest to feel his collar.

The Ex-President is awaiting arrest over allegations he bunged porn star Stormy Daniels a $130,000 payment to keep schtum about their relationship.

Back in 2016, Stormy Daniels started calling the tabloid press in America to say she was willing to sell her story about her sexual adventures with the Donald.

Trump’s lawyers heard the chatter and agreed to buy her story – or silence – for $130,000.

That isn’t an offence, but when the MAGA man declared it as ‘legal fees’, it becomes one when it is considered ‘falsifying business records’.

And while that is a ‘misdemeanour’, if prosecutors decide to pursue the claim that the real reason for his disguising the payment was to avoid letting voters know about his affair, this then becomes a felony offence.

Either way, it is far from a clean-cut case.

The line between private money and campaign finances is blurry at the best of times and previous attempts to prosecute those accused of over-stepping the mark have typically failed.

There is, of course, lots of politics at play too.

The final decision on whether to prosecute lies with New York City District Attorney, Alvin Bragg.

The Harlem-born, Harvard-educated Democrat is the first African American to hold the top legal post in New York, but he has throughout the investigation been cautious about whether he believed there is enough evidence to win the case.

His hesitancy led to the resignation of his deputy and a public rebuke for his lack of courage to take the case forward.

In the red corner, a cautious DA, in the blue corner Trump, itching for a fight.

On his social media channel – Truth Social – he declared that the NY prosecutors were coming for him on Tuesday and his supporters should mobilise and protest.

That didn’t happen on either count.

Trump waited at his Mar-A-Lago compound for the arrival of the Feds to no avail, and his supporters who only two years ago were happy to respond to his call to storm the Capitol, went ‘Meh’ and stayed home too.

In reality, if Trump is charged, it will be handled much more discreetly.

The ex-Pres’s legal team will be informed, his cooperation will negate the need for him to be arrested, and he will fly by private jet and limo transfer to a Manhattan courthouse at a time of his choosing.

But I imagine the New York DA’s office will only agree these compromises in increments.

If they let Trump surrender to the court without issuing an arrest warrant, they will want him and his legal team’s compliance on other issues. If they don’t like the way Trump’s lawyers frame the case in the media, they may insist on him having to do the ‘Perp’s Walk’ past the massed media on the courthouse steps rather than a private arrival through the underground car park.

If charged with a felony, Trump will be fingerprinted and mug shotted – you can already imagine the millions to be made from t-shirts with that image on. And when led into court, felony defendants are handcuffed – electric images for the global TV cameras which will be granted access to the courtroom.

And, as a former President, he will also be accompanied by secret service agents – there for his protection – but being in handcuffs with a couple of heavily armed goons is never a great look.

And then there is the drama of the judge reading out the charges for the first time and the defendant entering his plea.

“Not Guilty, M’lud” – or something similar.

Many will be watching to see what, if any, impact this might have on Trump’s pitch to be back in the White House in 2024.

Legally, not much. There is nothing to stop anyone running and even serving as President from prison.

But a certain Governor from Florida will make sure electors are frequently reminded about the case.

Asked this week what he thought about ‘Trump’s legal problems’ Governor Ron DeSantis response was telling.

In what was a masterclass in punching below the belt with choice language, he started by calling out Alvin Bragg, before dripping poison on Trump with the following statement:

I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair – I just can’t speak to that.”

Ouch.

But Trump doesn’t shy away from a mud-slinging cat fight, even when he probably should.

On his Truth Social site he initially posted: “Ron will probably find out about this sometime in the future when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman (or possibly a man!) with false accusations.”

Touché, Orange One.

So, what will happen?

Over drinks with a senior Republican strategist in an airport earlier this week, he told me he saw challenges and opportunities for Trump as this legal case plays out.

“Trump’s strategy is always about an ‘Us versus Them’ narrative of which he is at the centre. It isn’t important who the ‘Us’ or ‘Them’ are so long as Trump is at the heart of the battle” he told me.

He argued that the ‘Them’ in this battle could initially be the likes of DeSantis and other Republicans who have not stepped up and backed the ex-President. Closer to the election, if Trump gets the GOP nod, it will be the liberal left and their mainstream media cheer leaders.

While a lengthy case and frequent court appearances would be an irritant and distraction for any candidate wanting to campaign to become leader of the free world, it would also potentially keep Trump as the headline act, negating the usual advantage the incumbent in any political race holds.

“And if the stars aligned, and Trump’s case was heard at a crucial moment in the election process” my GOP insider tells me. “If he was to be found not guilty, this could be the huge bounce to propel him back into the top job.”

Of course, being indicted could work against him, polls show many traditional Republicans would find that a reason to ditch their former hero.

In the next few days, this political thriller will probably begin.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

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Martin Liptrot

Martin Liptrot is a Public Affairs, PR and Marketing consultant working with UK, US and Global clients to try and ‘make good ideas happen’.

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