NEW YORK, March 18, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Former US President Donald Trump said
he expects to be "arrested" on Tuesday over hush money allegedly paid to a porn
star before the 2016 election, calling on his supporters to protest.
With signs mounting that prosecutors are moving closer to indicting Trump,
the 76-year-old billionaire took to his Truth Social platform on Saturday
morning, saying: "Leading Republican candidate & former President of the United
States of America will be arrested on Tuesday of next week. Protest, take our
Trump chose to use his own social media platform to make the announcement,
despite being reinstated on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, more than two years
after he was banned over the US Capitol riot.
The indictment would make Trump the first former US president to be charged
with a crime and would send political shock waves as he tries to secure the
Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election.
Already, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reacted with fury,
accusing New York prosecutors of pursuing "political vengeance" against Trump
and saying he would launch a congressional probe of the matter.
The investigation led by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, an
elected Democrat, centers on $130,000 paid weeks before the 2016 polls to stop
Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, from going public about
an affair she says she had with Trump years earlier.
Trump's lawyer told CNBC on Friday evening that his client would surrender
to face criminal charges if he was indicted.
Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels and has dismissed the
investigation as politically motivated.
- 'Illegal leaks' -
In his Truth Social post, written in capital letters, Trump referred to
"illegal leaks from a corrupt & highly political Manhattan district attorneys
office" and said the investigation was "based on an old & fully debunked (by
numerous other prosecutors!) fairytale."
Hours later, Trump doubled down in another all-caps post, assailing his
successor as "crooked" and urging his followers to "Protest, Protest,
Trump's lawyer Susan Necheles indicated that his posts were based on media
reports and not on any fresh action taken by prosecutors.
"Since this is a political prosecution, the District Attorney's office has
engaged in a practice of leaking everything to the press, rather than
communicating with President Trump's attorneys as would be done in a normal
case," Necheles said in a statement to AFP.
A grand jury in New York, a citizen panel which examines evidence presented
by prosecutors to decide if a charge is warranted, has been hearing from
witnesses in Trump's case.
On Monday, jurors heard from Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen,
who made the payment to Daniels. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison
in 2018 on federal charges related to the payment. He pleaded guilty but said
he had been carrying out Trump's orders.
Daniels herself met with prosecutors on Wednesday and "agreed to make
herself available as a witness, or for further inquiry if needed," according to
her lawyer Charles Brewster.
Trump has also received an invitation to testify, which legal experts say
is a sign that an indictment is near.
The payment to Daniels, if not properly accounted for, could result in a
misdemeanor charge related to falsifying of business records. That might be
raised to a felony if the false accounting was intended to cover up a second
crime, such as a campaign finance violation, The New York Times has reported.
- 2024 prospects -
Trump is facing several criminal probes at state and federal level over
possible wrongdoing before, during and after his term in office that threaten
his new run at the White House.
In Georgia, a prosecutor is investigating Trump and his allies' efforts to
overturn his 2020 election loss in the southern state. The grand jury in that
case has recommended multiple indictments, the forewoman revealed last month.
The former president is also the subject of a federal probe into his
handling of classified documents as well as his possible involvement in the
January 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol.
Facebook and YouTube, where Trump has millions of followers, benched him
days after the attack, arguing that his posts incited unrest.
Some observers believe an indictment bodes ill for Trump's 2024 chances,
while others speculate that it could on the contrary serve as a huge boost.
"The arrest secures the nomination for Donald Trump," tweeted Rick Wilson,
a political strategist who quit the Republican Party in protest over Trump.
"The base will rally politically, and possibly physically. (Let me know how
Tech billionaire Elon Musk, a self-described libertarian who has
increasingly aligned with Republican positions and who overturned the Twitter
ban on Trump in the name of free speech, went even further.
"If this happens, Trump will be re-elected in a landslide victory," Musk
said in a tweet.
Trump called a new campaign rally in Texas on March 25.