A sealed indictment of former President Donald Trump was issued late Thursday by a Manhattan Grand Jury. How he responds will determine whether he has a future in American politics.
The crime or crimes with which he is charged are not yet known. Presumably, they have to do with allegations made by New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg that the former president, while a candidate for office in 2016, directed attorney Michael Cohen — widely known as his “fixer” — to pay “hush money” to an adult film star who claimed to have had a one-time sexual encounter with Trump.
Trump then, as Bragg’s theory apparently has it, reimbursed Cohen for the payment which, the Manhattan DA says, is an illegal use of federal campaign funds.
It’s a high bar to clear. The only other former federal candidate to have been indicted for anything remotely similar, former U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee John Edwards was able to walk out of court a free man after explaining it was not the voters he was trying to keep from knowing about his extra-marital affair with a campaign aide but his wife.
Nonetheless, all eyes are again on Trump — which is how he likes it. A statement issued in his name after news of the indictment broke, while excited and hyperbolic, stopped short of calling for protests as he did earlier in March when he said an indictment was forthcoming.
Now that the indictment has been issued, he’s certainly allowed to mount a defense at the bar and in the court of public opinion. He can ask his followers to write letters, sign petitions and even march in the streets to demonstrate their support for him. None of that would undermine the judicial process even if it occurred outside the courthouse while he was appearing before a magistrate.
What he cannot do, and what should immediately quash any attempt by him to return to office in 2024 is if he does anything that leads to the kind of uncivil disobedience that was on display on Jan. 6, 2020.
The indictment may help Trump in his quest to regain the presidency. Some people may interpret it as proof that the national Democratic political machine will do anything to prevent him from succeeding. It’s an arguable case, especially in light of what we now know about the way his first campaign for the presidency was surveilled by federal law enforcement agencies and just where the so-called Steele dossier full of scurrilous charges came from.
He’s free to make that argument and ask his supporters to connect the dots. As hard as it might be for some people to fathom, he might to some degree even be right. U.S. government officials may have abused their power to try to keep him from winning in 2016. Things like that have happened before.
None of that matters though if Trump tries to turn his machine loose in a kind of blind, vindictive rage. The word is quietly spreading he’s been telling the GOP donor class he’ll bring the Republican Party down around itself if it fails to nominate him in Milwaukee. It’s easy to wonder, therefore, whether he has similar plans for the political system as his opponents left and right like to say he does.
Trump’s response to the indictment is a test. It’s an opportunity to see what he’s learned in his time out of office and if his respect for the constitutional processes that made this nation great has grown.
It’s an important test. Let’s hope for all our sakes, he passes.
A former UPI senior political writer and U.S. News and World Report columnist, Peter Roff is a senior fellow at several public policy organizations including the Trans-Atlantic Leadership Network. Contact him at RoffColumns AT gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter and TruthSocial @TheRoffDraft.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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