Donald Trump Indictment

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By RAFAEL R. IORIS*

The 2024 election just got more unpredictable and certainly more complex.

April 4, 2023 will go down in the annals of history as the date the first former president of the United States was indicted. The former president in question is Donald Trump, and the crime is electoral fraud. The indictment was authorized by New York Attorney Alvin Bragg, based on investigations that go back several years and that are now being reexamined and corroborated by a special jury charged with approving, or not, such initiative.

We are talking, ultimately, about accounting fraud, but which also became electoral fraud because it was an improper allocation of resources. They would have been, in fact, used to buy the silence of the actress of erotic films Stormy Daniels, with whom Donald Trump would have had an affair, but which were accounted for as campaign resources, in the midst of the 2016 electoral process, which would lead Donald Trump the White House.

Donald Trump had immunity during his presidential term. But now, as a former president, he can be indicted as an ordinary citizen. Initially, it was expected that more serious issues, such as, for example, the fact that Donald Trump tried to rig the vote count of the state of Georgia during the 2020 re-election campaign, would result in an eventual indictment. In this sense, given the unusual nature of the crime, the initial reaction of most North American commentators has been that, perhaps, the Attorney General's Office was too hasty, or even "forced its hand", given that such accounting fraud would be a crime. only in the state of New York, not at the federal level. This means that, perhaps, the offense in question cannot be used for an indictment, since it is a campaign at the federal level – the only one in the country, for the Presidency.

Much of the indictment is based on testimony from a former Donald Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, who has already been sentenced to prison for a number of crimes, including the charge against Donald Trump. Given that this is the word of a “criminal”, Donald Trump's defense has already begun the task of discrediting Michael Cohen's version. In addition, Donald Trump himself has been working insistently, in recent weeks, to create a narrative of political persecution (“witch hunt”). The effort has worked surprisingly effectively with the Republican base. His intention to vote for the next presidential election, in 2024, has grown within the party. To date, Donald Trump has raised more than $8 million in donations for his re-election campaign.

The process formally started today will be long, and a possible sentence may only be announced during next year's election campaign. In this sense, the question that arises is whether the indictment and the forwarding of investigations will be harmful, or beneficial, to Donald Trump's attempt to return to the White House. For the time being, the businessman has managed to be very effective in gathering support from his most hardened electorate and even from the leaders of the Republican Party in general. This includes possible opponents in the party's primary campaign who, in order not to appear opportunistic, have defended the former president and classify the accusations as undue and persecutory.

If the current trend is maintained, it is possible that Donald Trump will be nominated by the Republicans to possibly run against Joe Biden, also a candidate for re-election, by the Democratic Party. What is not certain is whether or not support for Donald Trump among the increasingly conservative Republican base reflects the views of the country's broader electorate, in particular the independent vote. In the first polls, the majority of the population, in general, is favorable to the indictment of Donald Trump. There is a very strong legalistic, and even moralistic, tradition in American society that tends to pride itself and to repeat the phrase that “no one is above the law”.

Only one former president managed to return to the Presidency in the USA, after having suffered a defeat in his first attempt at re-election. Whether this will be the case for Donald Trump will depend on whether he is able to expand the narrative of unfounded political persecution to other strata of voters so that we can then begin to get some possible predictions for next year's election. For now, everything seems very uncertain and open. What you can know is that the 2024 election is perhaps more unpredictable and certainly more complex.

*Rafael R. Ioris is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Denver (USA).


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