Donald Trump is terrified of going to jail in the telling of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has known Trump for over two decades.
"I'm telling you—no matter what he says, no matter how he's bragging and going on and on about him not being afraid—he goes to bed every night thinking about the sound of that jail cell closing behind him," Christie said Tuesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Christie recalled that when he would prosecute political figures as a U.S. attorney in the 2000s, Trump would tell him, "I could never do that—I could never go to jail."
Christie's insights seem particularly prescient after Trump's lawyers asked a federal judge Monday to postpone Trump's trial indefinitely until after the 2024 election.
"Proceeding to trial during the pendency of a Presidential election cycle wherein opposing candidates are effectively (if not literally) directly adverse to one another in this action will create extraordinary challenges in the jury selection process and limit the Defendants’ ability to secure a fair and impartial adjudication,” they wrote in the court filing. “There is simply no question any trial of this action during the pendency of a Presidential election will impact both the outcome of that election and, importantly, the ability of the Defendants to obtain a fair trial."
In effect, Trump's lawyers are arguing justice should be delayed, not because he's a sitting president but because he once again seeks to be.
Trump's legal strategy has always been a political strategy, but his latest court filing puts a point on it. His appeal for postponement of the trial until after the 2024 election is an explicit effort to elevate the political concerns of the country over the legal ones—potentially to his benefit.
Clearly, if Trump succeeds in winning the election he will simply order his Justice Department to end the proceedings, and he won't think twice about it. A Trump 2.0 Justice Department will be his personal get-out-of-jail-free card on any pending federal indictments as well as an instrument of his personal whims and ambitions. That was already true to some extent during Trump's first term, but it will be both overt and unchecked in a second term, which he would just as surely aim to make a term for life. In fact, Trump is already pledging to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate President Joe Biden.
The country was always going to end up here. From the moment in 2016 when Trump imagined murdering someone on Fifth Ave, he inherently believed he was above the law. That effectively proved true while he was in office, with his Justice Department working to tilt the legal landscape to his benefit in multiple investigations concerning both him (e.g., his Russia ties) and his political interests (e.g., the probes of the Russia investigation and Hunter Biden).
For now, Christie says Trump is in serious legal jeopardy if the trial is allowed to proceed apace.
"I want people to understand this, he was given 18 months to return those docs voluntarily—18 months," Christie noted.
Christie not only believes a trial would result in a Trump conviction but also jail time, though he conceded Trump likely wouldn’t be sent somewhere like Rikers Island.
“What the Department of Justice has always done," Christie explained, "is, if we offer you a plea, which I'm certain they will, and you turn it down and you take us to trial and you're convicted, that judge is sending you to jail."
If the trial isn't delayed past 2024, Christie is betting Trump takes a plea deal for that very reason: to potentially avoid jail time, which petrifies him to no end.
So justice delayed in this case could literally be justice denied forever. Conversely, a speedy trial could result in the guilty plea and criminal conviction of the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination.