Why Team Trump is embracing his indictment

As the news cycle churns on one week after former President Trump was charged in Manhattan criminal court on 34 felony counts over a hush money scheme, Trump and his allies are doing what they can to keep his historic indictment front and center.

Trump sat for an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson to discuss the charges, and he has repeatedly posted on Truth Social attacking Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Trump’s allies in the House are locked in a fight with Bragg to secure his testimony as they seek to frame the charges as politically motivated. And Trump’s campaign has been fundraising off of last week’s courthouse appearance, to great effect.

Taken together, the strategy reflects how Trump and his team believe the charges are actually a political benefit to him in the short term.

Trump dominated the airwaves early last week as his travel to New York City and subsequent surrender to authorities in Manhattan blocked out any other political storylines. And that, Trump allies believed, was to his advantage as even some of his regular critics and 2024 rivals attacked the prosecution while others questioned why this was the legal battle Trump was facing criminal charges for when others are much more severe.

FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate on April 4, 2023, in Palm Beach, Fla., after being arraigned earlier in the day in New York City. After his initial court appearance in the New York case, the first of several in which he is in legal jeopardy, Trump ticked through the varied investigations he was facing and branded them as “massive” attempts to interfere with the 2024 election. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Former President Donald Trump has embraced the charges against him, believing it will benefit him politically. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Strategists believe that if Trump can dominate a news cycle, it snuffs out possible momentum for his rivals for the 2024 GOP nomination.

“It’s the same thing he did in 2016: The cable networks would show an empty podium where Trump was set to speak instead of showing his rivals giving actual speeches at the same time,” said Alex Conant, who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign. “It’s incredibly frustrating for his competitors. You can’t move up in the polls without media attention, and Trump just starves the competition.”

A week since his arrest in Manhattan, Trump has faded into the background, as new headlines emerge: A trove of leaked documents containing sensitive material about U.S. allies and the war in Ukraine; the expulsion of two Black Democrats in Tennessee over gun violence protests; and a federal judge blocking FDA approval of a common abortion drug.

In response, Trump and his allies in Congress — which is not in session this week — have made a concerted effort to keep the former president’s legal battle in New York top of mind.

In his interview with Carlson that aired Tuesday, Trump ranted at length about what he believes is political persecution.

“It was a sad day in many ways,” Trump told Carlson. “And in many ways it was a beautiful day because the people understand I didn’t know this was happening, but the poll numbers have gone through the roof. The people get it and the other ones are hoaxes.”

Several fundraising emails sent out from the Trump campaign in the past week have referenced the former president’s arrest or indictment, and an email sent Monday claimed the campaign had raised more than $14 million since news of the indictment broke roughly two weeks ago.

Most telling was a campaign effort that included a fake mugshot of Trump being sold on T-shirts while the former president was still in the courthouse being booked. 

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has been central to the effort in Congress to make sure Trump’s indictment stays in the headlines.

The House Judiciary Committee, which Jordan chairs, is holding a hearing on April 17 in New York City intended to spotlight “violent crime in Manhattan,” and more specifically to take aim at Bragg, the Manhattan prosecutor who brought charges against Trump.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday, March 2, 2023. (Greg Nash)

Jordan in recent days subpoenaed a former prosecutor who worked on the Trump investigation in Manhattan and last week asked another employee to turn over personal emails about how he came to be hired by Bragg’s office.

Bragg, who has not been subpoenaed yet, filed an unprecedented  lawsuit on Tuesday against Jordan, calling the congressman’s efforts a “transparent campaign to intimidate and attack” the district attorney’s office’s work.

Jordan, a frequent fixture on Fox News, said Tuesday he was worried that the Manhattan indictment was the start of broader legal troubles for Trump.

“I’m really concerned that they’re going to indict him in Georgia, that they’re — that the special counsel is going to bring in action as well,” Jordan said. “I think it’s so wrong. I think the country understands that. It’s not what our great nation, the greatest country ever, is supposed to be about.”

Separately, legislation from Rep. Russell Fry (R-S.C.) would allow Trump and other former presidents and vice presidents to move civil and criminal cases from state courts to federal courts, another swipe at Bragg. The bill is being reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee.

Trump and some of his allies have expressed more concern about the other criminal cases hovering over him, including a Georgia investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and a Justice Department probe of his handling of classified documents as well as his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. 

Rep.-elect Russell Fry (R-S.C.)

Then-Rep.-elect Russell Fry (R-S.C.) is seen during the first day of the 118th session of Congress on Tuesday, January 3, 2023. (Greg Nash)

In a show of the indictment seemingly helping him politically but maybe not legally, Trump’s lawyers on Wednesday sought a delay of a civil trial over a rape allegation against him made by writer E. Jean Carroll as a result of the indictment.

In the meantime, Trump has pointed to polling showing the Manhattan case has already solidified his support with Republicans. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released three days after his arraignment found 58 percent of Republicans support Trump, and 40 percent said the criminal case made them more likely to vote for the former president.

Asked by Carlson if there was any legal case that would dissuade him from seeking the White House, Trump was unequivocal.

“No, I’d never drop out,” he said. “That’s not my thing. I wouldn’t do it.”

–Updated on April 13 at 7:48 a.m.

Tags Alvin Bragg Donald Trump indictment Jim Jordan

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