April 14. 2024. 7:28

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If Donald Trump is charged, the knock-on effects could be huge

Any move by authorities in New York to charge former president Donald Trump would cause a sensation and throw into the air the contest for the US presidency in 2024.

Trump is already a declared candidate for the Republican Party nomination and insisted last weekend he would not drop out even if he was indicted.

The former president faces a number of investigations, of which the outcome remains unknown. On Thursday night, however, the
New York Times reported that prosecutors in Manhattan had signalled to Trump’s lawyers that he could face criminal charges over the payment of $130,000 “hush money” to Stormy Daniels, a porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair.

It said prosecutors offered the former president the opportunity to testify next week before a grand jury in New York that had been hearing evidence in the case.

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The newspaper said such offers almost always indicate an indictment is close.

Trump is highly unlikely to agree to go before the grand jury and give evidence under oath. He has denied the allegations against him and previously described the New York investigation as a “witch hunt”.

Charging Trump would be a significant step for the district attorney in Manhattan Alvin Bragg. No former US president has ever been indicted, let alone one who is in the middle of running for the office again.

Even if Trump was to be charged, any conviction would be a long way off. Any case against the former president is likely to be complex and involve a combination of allegations of falsely accounting for the hush money payments and breaches of election laws.

Trump would be certain to fight any charges against him tooth and nail.

The key questions are what would be the reaction of the Republican Party establishment to a candidate under indictment and how would his loyal supporters respond.

Republican politicians have by and large either backed Trump fully or quickly fallen back into line with him after brief periods of breaking with him over the last seven years or so.

Whether having a candidate on the presidential ticket for 2024 who was facing trial would be a step too far for them – particularly if it could drag down the party’s prospects overall – remains to be seen.

There would appear to be nothing in the US constitution to prevent a person facing charges running for the White House. In 1920, socialist Eugene Debs was a candidate for president while in jail for criticising the draft during first World War.

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If charged, Trump may face not a legal problem in continuing his campaign, but rather a political one.

The other big unknown is what Trump’s diehard followers would do if he were indicted.

Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol in Washington after he, falsely, claimed the White House had been stolen from him due to fraud in the 2020 election. Could a prosecution lead to further violence on the streets?

Trump is, of course, under investigation not only in New York.

A special counsel has been appointed by the US Department of Justice to examine efforts made by the former president to overturn the 2020 election result.

In Georgia the district attorney is investigating allegations that Trump and his allies interfered in the election in the state in 2020.

This includes the infamous call made by Trump in January 2021 to Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, in which he urged him to “find” 11,780 votes, or enough to overturn his loss in the state.