The smoke is beginning to clear from former President Trump’s arraignment — but questions are growing sharper as to how it will affect the other legal challenges he is facing.
Even some Democrats and Trump critics acknowledge that the case being prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) appears shaky in places.
Trump allies argue it is plainly an attempt to use the legal system to inflict political damage on the former president.
The fear among Democrats is that other probes which have Trump in their crosshairs will be tainted by the perceived weakness of the Manhattan case.
Republicans think that is exactly what will happen.
“I don’t know that the public appreciates the nuanced differences between the different legal challenges Trump is facing,” said Matt Mackowiak, chair of the Travis County, Texas, Republican Party.
Trump’s legal adversaries, Mackowiak said, “went with the weakest case first. And it gives him [Trump] the chance to paint them all with the same brush, even thought the facts are different and the statutes are different.”
Trump’s most severe GOP critics fear exactly that outcome.
Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, now a fierce Trump foe, said on CBS before the indictment was unsealed that an acquittal or dismissal of the case would be “rocket fuel” for the former president “because he can say, ‘I told you this was a political prosecution.’”
If that happened, it would be especially galling for Democrats. Many of those other investigations focus on matters that are of more fundamental importance — and where the underlying conduct from Trump seems much more serious.
The clearest example is the probe into election interference in Georgia led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D).
In that instance, a phone call Trump made in the waning days of his presidency to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) is already in the public domain.
On the call, Trump pressures Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overcome President Biden’s narrow margin of victory in the state in the 2020 presidential election.
He also tells Raffensperger, albeit in hazy terms, that it would be “a big risk to you” if the secretary of state affirmed the legitimacy of the election.
Raffensperger resisted Trump’s pressure, though he later wrote that he perceived the president’s words as a threat.
Meanwhile, Special Counsel Jack Smith is investigating events around the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol and the discovery of documents with classified markings at Trump’s Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s actions around the Capitol insurrection have already been sufficient to get him impeached.
In the Mar-a-Lago case, an attempt by the National Archives to secure material that Trump had taken with him at the end of his presidency dragged on for more than a year.
A Trump lawyer also at one point signed a written statement affirming that a “diligent search” had located “any and all documents” that were being sought. That assertion appears to have been untrue.
When Trump spoke from Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night, after his arraignment earlier in the day, he contended that his conversation with Raffensperger was “an absolutely perfect phone call” and called the probe into classified documents “the boxes hoax.”
He also condemned as “racist” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who is Black. James last September filed a $250 million civil suit against Trump, the Trump Organization and several other people, including three of his adult children.
Seeking to tie those very disparate threads together, Trump continued that because “they can’t beat us at the ballot box” now “they try and beat us through the law.”
Some Democrats take heart from the idea that a different pattern will take hold — one in which the number of probes into Trump will have a cumulative impact.
The Manhattan indictment is only “the beginning of a process that will be very destructive to Trump,” Democrat strategist Tad Devine argued.
Devine recalled his own painful experiences way back on the 1988 presidential campaign of Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
Dukakis, who had come out of the Democratic convention that year with a double-digit polling lead, ultimately lost heavily to Republican George H.W. Bush.
Devine contended that GOP strategists that year had found “an accumulation of negatives” to thwart Dukakis. And he argued a similar pattern could take place with Trump this year.
“I understand that his base, at this time, might be more concentrated,” he said. “But when the charges keep coming, it is going to be very painful for him.”
Opinion polling that has been conducted since news of Trump’s indictment first broke has indicated that the former president has increased his lead over potential 2024 rivals for the GOP nomination, most notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
But two polls, from ABC News/Ipsos and CNN/SSRS, found pluralities of the general public approving of the decision to indict him in Manhattan, even as most respondents also saw the decision as political.
The results point to the complex nature of the public view of Trump’s legal woes. And they suggest there is still plenty left to play for in the months ahead.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.