It’s a mistake to dismiss Trump’s hush-money indictment

OPINION: No matter how the New York arraignment and subsequent trial go down, no one can dismiss the critical fact that this indictment effectively pierces the veil of Trump, and all presidents for that matter, being held accountable for their crimes.

Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2023, while en route to West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Get ready for the perp walk and the mugshot that are unlikely to live up to the viral AI-generated images of Trump being taken into custody by Beyoncé herself, but no one should minimize this historic moment. For the first time ever, a former United States president is being charged with felony crimes, and it’s about time. 

After signaling that the Manhattan grand jury investigating Trump and other matters would pause during the month of April to recognize religious holidays, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg threw down the ultimate UNO reverse card when multiple sources confirmed an indictment that caught Trump world off guard. While the formal indictment and charges are under seal, it’s been reported that the indictment includes, according to CNN, federal charges and more than 30 counts related to business fraud against the former occupant of the White House. Reactions to the news did not disappoint. 

First, there was the hilarious audible on-air gasp and shock over at that far-right news network that showed just how untouchable Trump’s fans thought he was. And then there was the routine debasing from the very Republicans Trump has targeted. Former Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump literally sent an armed mob after on Jan. 6, called the indictment outrageous and scoffed at the campaign finance violations. Trump acolyte and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to score MAGA points by refusing constitutional extradition laws, even though Trump is already negotiating his surrender with D.A. Bragg’s office. And Rep. Kevin McCarthy further defiled the office of the House speaker with a hollow threat to investigate the Manhattan D.A. After the Trump surrogates were done tweeting, then came the fundraising emails, because, of course, Republicans only see this as a fundraising exercise and another grift for their supporters who will undoubtedly feed into the mess. 

Fortuitous polling this week from NPR, PBS and Marist showed that 56% of the nation believes that the state and federal investigations into Trump’s crimes are fair, and a separate poll from Quinnipiac showed that 57% of the public believes that being charged with a crime should disqualify Trump from running for president in 2024. Naturally, Republican voters overwhelmingly reject these trends as 80% of them consider the investigations to be “witch hunts.” And therein lies the concern for how they will channel that energy since Trump has already called for “death and destruction,” and lobbed hateful, racist attacks at D.A. Bragg, who has already received a death threat inspired by Trump’s words.

What comes next is going to be a fragile examination of any lessons we’ve learned since Jan. 6, or since Nixon unceremoniously resigned from office. When Trump tries to make this perp walk “O.J. Simpson on steroids,” as his advisers have dubbed it, how will his base respond? Will they flock to New York and try to overrun law enforcement and send more threats to the D.A.? Or will it be a whimper of a showing like it was two weeks ago when Trump lied about the timing of his arrest and there were more press cameras than Trump supporters outside of the Manhattan courthouse? Will the public allow the investigation and court proceedings to run their course during the next few years — yes, years — and produce stunning evidence against Trump?

No matter how the New York arraignment and subsequent trial go down, no one can dismiss the critical fact that this indictment effectively pierces the veil of Trump, and all presidents for that matter, being held accountable for their crimes, as well as the significance of the Stormy Daniels hush-money payments yielding the first indictment. Trump’s efforts to cover up his tryst with the adult film star weeks before the 2016 election are what paved the way for him to commit all of the crimes between 2017 and 2021. You know the ones I’m talking about — stealing documents after leaving the White House, calling election officials to “find” him votes during the 2020 election, and sending an armed mob to the Capitol on Jan. 6

That original hush-money payment was the original crime, and a first step in defrauding voters and the nation when they went to the polls seven years ago. It’s essentially what got the ball rolling for Trump’s presidential crime spree. Of course, we’re all waiting with bated breath for additional indictments to come from Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis and Special Counsel Jack Smith about those serious, subsequent crimes, but hats off to this first step towards accountability in Manhattan that shows us all that ex-presidents are not above the law.

Juanita Tolliver

Juanita Tolliver is the host of Crooked Media’s “What A Day” Podcast, and an MSNBC political analyst.

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