Donald Trump’s Indictment and its Potential Effects on the 2024 Election

MANUELA USANDIZAGA—Former President Donald Trump (“Trump”) was indicted on Thursday, March 30th, following a New York grand jury vote. This is the first time in U.S. history that a former president has faced criminal charges. The now unsealed 34-count felony indictment “alleges that Trump falsified New York business records in order to conceal damaging information before the 2016 presidential election.” 

The indictment document itself is bare bones. However, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office released a 14 page statement of facts (“Statement of Facts”) with more details. The Statement of Facts says that Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence on an alleged affair with Trump. It alleges that Trump falsely classified the reimbursements to Cohen as legal fees. The Court claims that this payment, along with two others, was made for the purpose of suppressing damaging information about Trump before the 2016 election. The Statement of Facts describes the two other hush-money payments allegedly made by Trump and states that he falsely characterized those payments in his records. In one instance, Trump allegedly paid $30,000 to a Trump Tower doorman who said he knew about Trump having a child out of wedlock. In another, Trump allegedly paid $150,000 to a second woman with whom he had an affair. 

Falsifying business records usually only amounts to a misdemeanor, but it becomes a felony if the records were falsified with an intent to conceal another crime. Neither the indictment nor the Statement of Facts identify the other crime that Trump intended to conceal. Politico states that “The most obvious candidate for that aggravating element is the admission from Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, that he arranged a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in consultation with Trump and to aid Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.” 

Trump has maintained his innocence and has denied ever having a relationship with Stormy Daniels. He called the indictment a “witch hunt” that “amounted to political persecution.” 

Republicans all over the country, including Trump’s potential political rivals, have criticized the indictment. Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis—who is expected to run against Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination—tweeted that “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda.” Similarly, former vice president Mike Pence said that it appeared to be nothing more than “political prosecution that’s driven by a prosecutor who literally ran for office on a pledge to indict the former president.” 

Most candidates on the ballot would view being indicted for any crime as a political death knell. But for Trump, this could be a gift leading up to the Republican primaries. In the past month, with Trump’s indictment looming, his lead over DeSantis doubled. Trump has portrayed himself to his supporters as a victim of not only the mainstream media, but also of the establishment. This indictment has fired up many of his supporters and reinstated their feelings that Trump is fighting corrupt forces. His campaign has already benefited from the indictment, raising over $4,000,000 in fundraising after the indictment was announced, with 25% of that money coming from first-time donors. The media attention on Trump might make it more difficult for his rivals to gain any traction. However, even if Trump’s supporters think he’s innocent, they could look for an alternative if it they believe that Trump won’t beat Biden in the 2024 Presidential election. 

The long term effects of this indictment on the 2024 Presidential election are not as clear. Many believe that this indictment could have negative impacts for Trump, since historically these types of scandals have hurt politicians. This indictment could make it especially difficult for Trump to gain the support of independent voters, which he would need in order to win the election.

On Tuesday, April 4th, Trump surrendered himself and then pleaded not guilty to all 34 felony criminal charges in Manhattan criminal court. Following his arrest and court appearance, Trump flew back to Florida and held an event with his supporters at Mar-a-Lago. At the event, Trump said, “I never thought anything like this could happen in America, never thought it could happen. The only crime I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”

Trump will continue to make his case in the court of public opinion as well as in Manhattan criminal court. His case’s next in-person hearing date is set for December 4th