Massive crowds are gathering in New York for an unprecedented moment in American history as they await Donald Trump’s entrance into a Manhattan courtroom, marking the first time ever that a former US president has been indicted.
Could this be the perp walk of the century?
The 76-year-old, who spent last night at Trump Tower, is due to appear at 7.15pm GMT. The former president denies any wrongdoing over allegations which relate to hush payments he made to adult film star, Stormy Daniels, just days before the 2016 presidential election.
New York police are flooding the city and erecting barricades around the courtroom as they brace for demonstrations from his fanbase, who have denounced the prosecution as a “witch hunt”.
Upon arrival, Trump is likely to be fingerprinted and have his mugshot taken. He is then expected to be arrested and placed in custody and will be asked to submit a plea, to which he is expected to plead not guilty. After the court hearing, he is likely be released on bail. In fact, the former president is scheduled to fly back to his Florida estate, where he plans to deliver a speech to his supporters.
While the trial itself is not expected to start for months, the big question is whether he could face jail time.
It’s difficult to say, as we’re still waiting to hear exactly what charges Trump is defending himself against. While hush money payments aren’t illegal, it’s thought that the wrongdoing relates to how that payment was recorded in his accounts – and the accusation that he falsified business records by claiming that the money he paid to his alleged former lover Daniels to keep her quiet was for legal fees.
If Trump is convicted on a felony charge, he could face up to four years in prison. However, many legal experts say a fine – as opposed to time behind bars – is more likely.
Despite the unprecedented nature of his indictment, Trump isn’t the first American president to get into trouble with the law.
Richard Nixon’s attempts to cover up his administration’s involvement in the 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters – in which copies of top-secret documents were stolen and office phones were bugged – is the most infamous prior example. In fact, it was such a disquieting case of political crime and corruption that, all these years later, adding “-gate” to the end of any word instantly signifies a scandal. Yet Nixon managed to avoid any criminal charges, unlike several of his top staff who were sent to federal prison. Indeed, Nixon was pardoned by the incoming president, Gerald Ford, for any crimes he may have committed.
Contrary to popular opinion, Trump is also not the first US president to be arrested. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant kickstarted the trend. After being caught speeding in a horse-drawn carriage two days in a row, he was arrested by a rather sheepish policeman, before being released on a $20 bond.
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Of course, Trump might be encouraged to hear that Grant’s brush with the law didn’t stop him securing another term in office that same year.
So far, Trump has given every indication that he will push ahead with his 2024 presidential campaign, regardless of what happens in the forthcoming trial. And there is nothing in the US constitution prohibiting candidates with criminal records from holding office.
In fact, the former president seems to think that painting it as a politically motivated trial could even play in his favour. Who knows? But one things for sure: it has certainly thrust a man, who is desperate to cling onto his relevance, right back into the limelight. The Democrats should be careful what they wish for.
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