First Donald Trump claimed to know that he would be arrested last Tuesday. That turned out to have been something he’d made up. Then Trump claimed to know this past weekend that the Manhattan criminal case against him had been dropped. That also turned out to have been something he’d made up. It’s a good reminder that Trump is not a source for anything, and the media shouldn’t give him special editorial consideration just because he once stole the presidency.
What’s playing out right now in Manhattan is also a good reminder of something else. A criminal indictment is not something that just falls out of the sky whenever a prosecutor decides to snap their fingers. If an indictment hasn’t happened yet, it’s not because that prosecutor is sitting there “doing nothing” and refusing to snap their fingers. A criminal indictment is the culmination of a complex investigative process, with the sole goal of building the kind of indictment that can get a conviction at trial.
It’s why, before prosecutors even go through the process of bringing a criminal indictment, they have to take the time to work through every possible witness on every possible topic. They need these things in their arsenal, so that when for instance a defendant like Donald Trump sends someone like Robert Costello in there with a bunch of stories aimed at discrediting key witness Michael Cohen, the prosecutor just has to look back through all the testimony that’s been amassed and figure out how to discredit the defendant’s claims.
In this instance it was a matter of the Manhattan DA putting former National Enquirer boss David Pecker back in front of the grand jury this week. He already testified to the grand jury awhile ago. Back then he gave whatever testimony was considered necessary and appropriate for the indictment process.
But now the DA has brought back Pecker to give additional testimony for the specific purpose of refuting Costello’s testimony and vindicating Cohen’s testimony. This suggests that the Manhattan DA had already gotten this additional information out of Pecker awhile ago, and didn’t need it at the time, but is now able to pull it out of his arsenal and use it to fit the situation.
This is part of why prosecutors have to take so long lining up all of this beforehand. Once the process gets going, they need to be able to pull these kinds of things out of a hat in real time. And it’s not because of magic, it’s because they did their homework first.
The kicker is that because Costello told his story to the grand jury under oath, he’s now stuck with that version of events. If Pecker’s testimony has now dismantled Costello’s claims and made him useless as a defense witness at trial, Costello can’t just change his story at trial and float a new version of events aimed at helping Trump, because that would get Costello nailed for perjury.
We still don’t fully understand Donald Trump’s rationale for sending his would-be surprise trial witness Costello to the grand jury like this. Trump appears to have panicked at the prospect of indictment, and decided to take his shot now instead of trying it at trial. But by any measure the move failed. Trump only managed to delay his Manhattan indictment by about a week, and in the process he’s forfeited a friendly witness who could have tried to help him at trial.
This is why it doesn’t matter that anyone out there is “tired of waiting” or finds themselves annoyed that the Manhattan indictment is dropping on this day instead of that day. First of all, this isn’t meant for anyone’s entertainment. Nor is it a matter of everyone waiting impatiently for some prosecutor to flip some magic switch somewhere. This is a living, breathing process. It’s never, ever as simple as someone in the backseat yelling “Are we there yet?”
We’ll see if David Pecker was indeed the final witness. If not, then we’ll see who else might testify on Wednesday, the next day this grand jury is back in session. If all the testimony in this case is finished, then there’s every reason to expect Trump’s indictment will happen on Wednesday. But these things are a process. They’re always a process.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report