Donald Trump’s strategy for responding to investigations and possible indictments was on full display over the weekend, as he spent much of his campaign rally in Waco, Texas, railing about the possible criminal charges that Trump himself has done much to hype, while one of his many lawyers went on Meet the Press and did him no favors in a PR or legal sense. At the center of this is the grand jury that may reconvene today to consider criminal charges in an investigation conducted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg into Trump’s hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. But it’s only one of many investigations into Trump, and his response to all of them is basically the same.
Rupert Murdoch may own The Wall Street Journal, but its headline nails it: "Trump’s Legal Strategy: Vilify Prosecutors, Stall Probes and Rally GOP Base." The problem at this point, for Trump, is that only one of the prongs of that strategy—stalling probes—is actually a legal strategy, and eventually, you can’t stall anymore. The rest of the strategy is all about keeping his base on board, and while Trump definitely thinks that provoking violence from his supporters is a valid option for resisting prosecution, Jan. 6 gave law enforcement a heads-up about what to be prepared for.
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Trump’s many lawyers are spread across his many different legal problems—there’s the Manhattan DA’s investigation; the Fulton County, Georgia, investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election in that state; the special counsel’s investigation into both efforts to overturn the 2020 election and Trump’s Mar-a-Lago document hoard; a $250 million civil suit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James over fraudulent business practices; and potentially a defamation suit brought by E. Jean Carroll—and it seems that the overarching strategic brain is Trump’s.
“He plays his own captain, and legally that is suicidal,” former White House lawyer Ty Cobb told the WSJ. “His strategy, to the extent there is one, appears totally reactive.” And while Cobb wasn’t quoted directly questioning the legal firepower Trump is bringing, he did suggest a reason Trump might have trouble recruiting the best lawyers: “Nobody considering assisting the former president at this stage of the game can be unmindful of the extraordinary speed with which Trump turns lawyers into witnesses.”
A Trump spokesman offered an example of the “this isn’t a legal problem, it’s a communications problem” mindset that could spell legal trouble for Trump. “This operation has been fine-tuned since 2016,” spokesman Steven Cheung told the WSJ. “Dealing with these types of news cycles, you learn to get good at it. We have a full-spectrum response operation on the campaign that can deal with anything that comes our way.”
The operation is fine-tuned for news cycles, but right now, Trump is dealing with legal problems, including criminal investigations, and those are different things. Trump not getting that is a problem for him in dealing with the legal system and a reminder that he really does think he can bully and bluster his way out of anything—and incite a little violence from his supporters when just yelling doesn’t work.
A Trump lawyer insisted that there is coordination between the lawyers on the different matters, then offered a way for people reading that claim to assess the reliability of the person making it: He described Trump as a “focused and deliberative decision-maker.”
The most immediate legal threat Trump faces is indictments from the Manhattan DA, though the Fulton County DA could be following close behind, and the special counsel is not going away. But Trump is focused on the most immediate threat, so, for now, it’s Bragg on whom the threats and vicious (and often racist) insults fall.
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