Major news outlets are now reporting that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has met with multiple law enforcement agencies to put the logistics in place for Donald Trump’s criminal indictment. In turn, Trump’s attorneys are putting it out there publicly that Trump intends to surrender himself for processing and arraignment, just like any other criminal defendant.
In other words, this really is happening. We’ve known all along that this was going to end up happening. The pieces have been incrementally falling into place for a very long time in a way that continuously made clear this was going to happen. And recently the pieces have been rapidly falling into place in a way that made clear this was going to happen soon. But now it is happening.
We should take a moment to remind ourselves that this isn’t some movie script. In the movies, story arcs tend to play out in the most dramatically constructed ways possible, complete with a climax that achieves a dramatic peak. In the real world, dramatic arcs are rarely so linearly constructed.
If this were a movie, Donald Trump would refuse to surrender himself, perhaps barricade himself inside his mansion, maybe even embark on a plot to flee the country which would end with the District Attorney chasing him through the airport and catching the cabin door just before it closes. It would happen that way in the movie because it would make for the most dramatic and suspenseful climax, whether it made sense for those characters to be making those choices or not.
In the real world, things tend to be less dramatic and more pragmatic. Even in Trump’s increasingly frantic state, he surely understands that trying to flee the country would result in a harsh life of poverty in a foreign land at best, and (if he gets caught in the act) pretrial incarceration until his trial.
For that matter Trump likely understands that if he forces law enforcement to come and forcibly drag him out of his home – or for that matter if there’s even so much as a whiff in the media about the possibility of him refusing to surrender when ordered – the judge assigned to his criminal case might be less than inclined to grant bail. And Trump knows that right now, the best case scenario he can hope for in life is to be out on bail.
Not that bail is going to be a good situation for him, mind you. Yes, the judge assigned to the case is going to look at his lack of a criminal record, the nonviolent nature of the charges, and the lack of evidence to suggest he’s an international flight risk (Twitter conspiracy theories aside), and likely grant him bail. But that bail may come with conditions. He may be forced to get all of his interstate travel approved. And at some point the judge in the case will surely end up hitting Trump with a gag order preventing him from publicly attacking the District Attorney or even so much as publicly discussing the case against him at all. If Trump violates that gag order, the judge can and will haul him in and assign more harsh bail restrictions or ultimately revoke it entirely.
In other words, the criminal justice system is about to treat Donald Trump like it treats any other criminal defendant who’s under felony indictment and awaiting trial. The judge in the case will own Trump, so to speak. The criminal justice system won’t view Trump as a former President or as a candidate in a future election. It’ll view him as a criminal defendant. The usual rules will apply.
It’s important to keep in mind that Donald Trump, seventy-six years old and having clearly lost a step or three in the cognitive department, is a newcomer to the criminal justice system. In spite of more than half a century of committing crimes, Trump has never been criminally indicted before. Not at the federal, state, or local level. The secret that the wealthy and powerful use for keeping themselves out of prison is that they pull strings behind the scenes to quietly keep themselves from getting indicted in the first place.
But when the wealthy and powerful do occasionally get indicted, their options suddenly become rather limited. They can afford better lawyers than most criminal defendants can. But if the case against you is overwhelming then even the best lawyers won’t dramatically improve your odds of acquittal. And in spite of his supposed wealth, Trump has been employing some of the most inept lawyers imaginable. So he doesn’t even appear to have that working for him.
Let’s be real: no matter how anyone anywhere tries to spin Donald Trump’s criminal indictment, and no matter what anyone’s dramatic expectations might be heading into this, the reality is still that neither side in these things ever has a magic wand. Prosecutors in various jurisdictions didn’t have a magic wand for producing viable indictments any sooner than this. And accordingly, now that prosecutors have taken the time to painstakingly build what appear to be overwhelmingly strong indictments against Trump, he does not have a magic wand for shaking off indictment.
This is not the political arena, where Trump can just bully his way through whatever conflict he’s facing. Nor is this an arena in which being dramatic or entertaining will in any way help you. This is the criminal justice system. It’s an arena that Trump has spent a lifetime working feverishly to avoid having to participate in, because as a career criminal, he’s known better than anyone that the criminal justice system is not an arena that anyone wants to be in or can prosper in. Yet now he’s being forced to enter that arena anyway.
That’s why Donald Trump is already indicating that when he’s indicted he intends to just walk in through the front door and surrender himself for arrest and processing (and yes he’ll be considered “under arrest” whether there are handcuffs involved or not). It’s not the kind of play that Trump wants to make. It’s just that going along with the criminal justice system’s demands, begging for bail, and hoping to find some narrow angle for getting acquitted at trial is the only play he has left. Surrendering voluntarily is not a good move for Trump. It’s just the least bad move. And no matter how he plays it, the most likely outcome is that he spends the final years of his life behind bars.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report