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Mar 31, 2023
Donald Trump Thought He Beat the Rap. Then the Indictment Hit
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump’s indictment followed a head-spinning two weeks during which the former president predicted his own arrest but, almost as quickly, suggested that he’d beat the rap.
When it did come on Thursday, the indictment by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office caught Trump and his circle of advisers off-guard, according to a person familiar with the matter. Some had even planned spring-break trips with their families in the coming weeks that had to be rapidly canceled.
“I think they’ve already dropped the case. From what I understand, I think it’s been dropped,” Trump told reporters on his plane following his March 25 campaign rally. His spokesman Steven Cheung told Fox News the case had been “dropped because everyone knows this was a partisan witch-hunt.”
Trump had a few days before also gloated on social media about the “total disarray in the Manhattan DA’s office.”
That was a decided change in tone from the morning of March 18, when Trump predicted on his Truth Social platform that he would be arrested that coming Tuesday and called on his supporters to take to the streets in protest. The already crowded blocks around the Criminal Courts Building at 100 Centre Street turned into a parking lot of television trucks, camera crews and reporters anticipating legal Armageddon.
Part of the Trump team’s confidence came from lawyer Robert Costello’s March 20 presentation to the grand jury on the former president’s behalf. The onetime federal prosecutor, who’s most recently defended Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon, brought hundreds of emails and text messages that he said showed that former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen would not be reliable witness.
“The one thing you can’t do is rest your case on Michael Cohen’s word,” Costello said in an interview after his grand jury appearance.
Cohen made the hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels that are at the center of Bragg’s case and will therefore be a key witness for the DA. But doubts have long circulated about putting Cohen on the stand — he pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations stemming from the payment and also to lying to Congress. Federal prosecutors suggested that his cooperation in their own investigation into the payments had been less-than-fulsome.
Moreover, Cohen has become a full-time critic of his former boss, with a podcast and several books on the subject.
The day after Costello’s grand jury presentation, Trump wasn’t arrested, and an indictment that once appeared imminent no longer seemed to be. At least one witness who had previously met with prosecutors, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, reappeared, suggesting there were nagging questions about his testimony.
During that time, Bragg’s office was also hit with a wave of criticism from across the political spectrum, with many left-leaning legal experts expressing concern that the DA’s case was weak and could hurt stronger prosecutions that might result from an Atlanta probe into Trump’s efforts to shift Georgia’s 2020 election results as well as a Justice Department special counsel investigation into his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and his retention of classified documents after leaving office.
The prospect of a Trump indictment seemed to recede further this week following news reports that the grand jury would be on break for anywhere from two to four weeks in April. The shift in pace further suggested that Bragg’s investigation had run out of steam.
So by Thursday afternoon, when prosecutors from Bragg’s office took their usual walk across the street to the building where the grand jury sits, the media circus of the previous week had evaporated. Gone were most of the TV trucks and camera crews. Only a handful of reporters and photographers remained.
Also gone were the oddball characters who had shown up for their 15 minutes of fame, including one man dressed up as the “QAnon shaman” convicted of storming the Capitol and another who walked among the gathered hordes carrying a wooden cross, urging people to “repent.”
That was when the grand jury met to vote.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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