News of indictment catches Trump and his team off guard

News of indictment catches Trump and his team off guard

Donald Trump

Sources say former president and aides thought prosecutors were reconsidering legal action and were taken by surprise by the announcement

Donald Trump and his top advisers were caught flat footed by the news of his indictment by the Manhattan grand jury over hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, having expected no charges until at least the end of April and potentially never at all.

The former president reckoned – along with his aides – that recent reporting about the grand jury taking a break from next week meant prosecutors in the district attorney’s office were reconsidering whether to seek an indictment over the matter.

But that optimism proved to be misplaced when Trump was alerted at Mar-a-Lago to the indictment by his advisers, some of whom had decided to return to Washington after growing tired of waiting with him for several weeks for charges to materialize.

The former president issued a pugilistic statement in response to the news and lashed out at the prosecution as political and an effort to hurt his 2024 presidential campaign, before appearing for dinner as usual alongside the other guests at this Florida resort.

But in private, Trump was more subdued as he took in the significance of becoming the first sitting or former president to be charged and the changed reality of operating under the threat of an eventual criminal trial, several sources close to him said.

The private response showed that for all his outward bravado – including claims that he wanted to be arrested and handcuffed for a “perp walk”because he wanted to project defiance if he was ever indicted – deep down, Trump has always feared the prospect of being criminally charged and its consequences.

The charges remain sealed, but are expected to touch on $130,000 that Trump made to Daniels through his then-lawyer Michael Cohen in the final days of the 2016 elections campaign. Trump later reimbursed Cohen with $35,000 checks, and Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges over the money.

Trump’s mood towards the hush money investigation has fluctuated in recent weeks – from criticising the prospect of criminal charges, to growing impatient and insisting they should charge him already, and then going back to attacking the investigation with vehemence.

After the first rally of his 2024 campaign in Texas, Trump told an NBC News reporter he was not frustrated by the case despite appearing quite frustrated.

“I’m not frustrated by it. It’s a fake investigation,” Trump said. “This is fake news, and NBC is one of the worst. Don’t ask me any more questions.”

Trump became more optimistic this week, believing – based on no actual evidence – that reports about the grand jury taking a break for most of April could mean the district attorney was having doubts about prosecuting the hush money case and that it was “all over”.

Some of Trump’s advisers took that as an opportunity to get out of Palm Beach where they had been waiting with him for weeks for an indictment to arrive.

Shortly after 5pm on Thursday, his 2024 campaign advisers learned from a New York Times alert that Trump had been indicted, catching them off guard in part because they assumed they would hear about it first from the Trump lawyers, who had themselves assumed they would confidentially hear it first from prosecutors.

Though Trump had indicated that he expected to be one of the first people to be told if he was charged in the hush money case, the sources said, when the news actually arrived, Trump appears to have been one of the very last people to find out.

the guardian

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