The anticipation with which Donald Trump himself announced his own indictment — the first time in history that a former U.S. president will face criminal charges — has paved the way for what is coming now. He will be arrested. He will be photographed and fingerprinted, as any other detainee processed through the U.S. judicial system. He may even be handcuffed. And in another classic step that moviegoers from all over the world will be very familiar with, he will be read his rights.
But Trump is not just any ordinary citizen, even if he will be subjected to the same procedures as any other American charged with a felony in New York. Although the specific charges are not yet known, they are tied to his role in the payment of $130,000 in the weeks before the 2016 election that took him to the White House, to buy the silence of the porn actress Stormy Daniels about an alleged extramarital affair 10 years earlier.
According to the Manhattan district attorney’s accusation, which the grand jury accepted, Trump falsified his company’s accounts to pass off that payment as something else. This is an offense punishable by a sentence of up to one year in jail, which becomes a felony if it is proven that the operation was instrumental in committing another crime: for example, irregular campaign financing or conspiracy to influence or prevent a vote.
The former president denies everything, and it could be several days before he appears in court. First, he needs to formally receive the indictment document. It is assumed that a tug-of-war is already taking place in the negotiation over the terms of its delivery. And Trump may well try to turn all this into a show that will further inflame his die-hard supporters and give wings to his 2024 presidential campaign run. For now, his lawyers have said that he is willing to fly from Florida to New York to comply with his legal obligations.
If he failed to do so, there is an unlikely scenario that Trump would have to be extradited. It would fall to Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, to authorize it. It so happens that DeSantis is currently the ex-president’s greatest enemy within his own party and very probably his most serious opponent to gain the Republican nomination for the presidential elections.
The New York court in charge of the prosecution is now faced with a dilemma. It has to show that Trump is just another citizen who is not above the law, yet at the same time it cannot ignore the extraordinary nature of the process. In just one indication of this, Trump will have to be accompanied at all times by armed members of the Secret Service. And that is without taking into account the media circus that is expected at the entrance to the courthouse — an even bigger one than has been camped out these past two weeks at the mere idea of a possible indictment. One of the questions that remains unclear is whether Trump will be required to appear in handcuffs. An exception could be made, given the nature of the case.
Trump had already stated that he had no intention of withdrawing from his presidential campaign in the event of an indictment. While there are no precedents of a former president being criminally prosecuted in the history of the United States, there is an instance of a candidate for the post running for office from prison. It is an obscure memory, one for keen students of American political history: it took place in 1920, when Eugene Debs was a candidate for the Socialist Party of America while also serving time in prison for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for making speeches critical of America’s role in World War I. He only got a million votes. Trump, for the time being, is comfortably leading the polls among Republicans for his nomination as the conservative candidate in 2024.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition