If the historic indictment of Donald Trump materializes in the coming days, the former president will likely have two options: show up to court in New York City on his own, or force the cops to come get him.
From a political standpoint, there are advantages and drawbacks to both options. And if Trump is aiming to make himself a political martyr and garner as much sympathy as possible, forcing authorities to come to Mar-a-Lago to arrest him could play into the showman’s hands.
At the moment, however, it looks like Trump will go quietly. According to a source close to Trump, the former head of state seems intent on traveling north to present himself voluntarily at the Manhattan criminal courthouse if he is indicted. In fact, as of Tuesday morning, his legal team had not even discussed plans to deal with his possible arrest.
Yet another point in the column for Trump traveling to the Manhattan courthouse on his own is that, according to a Trumpworld operative and a source close to Trump, the former president definitely doesn’t want to be placed in handcuffs.
“Being in handcuffs isn’t something Trump would want to do,” the Trump operative said.
But all of these decisions remain in flux. And as Trump is wont to do, he is weighing out how to leverage the optics of such a historic moment.
Trump has already started fundraising off the drama, sending an email to donors calling for them to contribute one dollar “to cement your place as a FOUNDING DEFENDER of our movement in what truly is the darkest chapter in our nation’s history.”
As the days go by and anticipation builds for this turning point in American history, pro-Trump commentators and far-right message boards are increasingly urging Trump to put up a fight.
“While I can’t claim to know how President Trump would respond in this situation, I know what I would do if I were in Trump’s position,” far-right radio host Stew Peters told The Daily Beast, “and it wouldn’t include voluntary surrender to bogus ‘authorities’ from New York.”
On a phone call with supporters Tuesday afternoon, Jan 6 ‘Stop the Steal’ organizer Ali Alexander also left the door open for a violent response to Trump’s looming indictment.
“Should there be a time for violence,” he said before cutting himself off. (He subsequently tweeted: “I am NOT calling for violence this very second!”)
The situation obviously echoes the fraught weeks that led up to the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, when then-President Trump infamously called on his supporters to rally in the nation’s capital for what would turn into a violent assault on Congress.
Back then, MAGA loyalists were summoned with a Trump tweet weeks earlier. “Be there, will be wild!” Trump wrote.
This time, supporters have been mobilized with a Saturday morning Truth Social post that foretold his upcoming arrest, with Trump writing, “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
In conversations with The Daily Beast, several Trump associates, one source close to Trump, and a Trumpworld operative noted the irony of Trump’s presidential campaign being scheduled to make one of its very first stops this week in Waco, Texas—on the 30th anniversary of the Waco massacre, a gruesome showdown in which federal law enforcement agents operating under a Democratic administration killed 80 men, women, and children who were part of a conservative religious cult.
The event has become a rallying cry for the anti-government far right, and Trump’s appearance there could be seen as a nod to deep-seated resentment that has only built over time.
However, legal scholars stressed that Trump would do well to avoid escalating any showdown in the coming days—and just show up at the Manhattan criminal courthouse at 100 Centre Street.
“We haven’t had something quite like this before, so it’s not like we have analogous things to draw on,” Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan H. Adler said. “There’s no reason that he should expect or demand special treatment. That doesn’t mean he won’t. But if he’s being represented by smart lawyers, they’re going to tell him to respond the way anyone else would.”
And that means showing up for his arraignment, a brief court appearance where a New York State Supreme Court justice would read aloud the criminal charges and detail Trump’s constitutional rights.
If it’s anything like other celebrity appearances in this drab downtown New York City building, the courtroom will be packed with reporters and the entire ordeal will be over 10 minutes flat—just as it was for Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s arraignment in 2018.
While Weinstein appeared in shackles, New York City defense attorneys told The Daily Beast they don’t expect District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr.—who’s already fending off accusations of an unfair prosecution—to do the same to the 76-year-old former president.
“I don’t think you handcuff him, and I don’t think you have two burly guys on either side of him. You’ll have Secret Service agents,” said Andrew Bernstein, a former public defender who now represents corporations and wealthy people accused of crimes.
Bernstein noted that Bragg is likely to give Trump better treatment than he does to average New Yorkers, particularly since his office and a nearby courthouse had to deal with bomb threats on Tuesday. The DA’s office felt compelled to issue a statement this week saying, “We will not be intimidated.”
“It’s a logistical nightmare and there can be violence. It would be inequitable to put a lot of strain on the clerks and court officers trying to get out on time to deal with this dog and pony show,” Bernstein said. “These guys have families. They just want to get from 8:00 to 4:00 unharmed. It would be foolish to handcuff him like the potential nutjobs. It’s unfair to court officers to make this a gasoline-on-the-fire situation.”
Then again, Trumpworld sources have toyed with the idea of dragging out the legal battle, to maximize the political benefit for Trump.
Other Trump confidants say there’s one person in particular within Trump’s orbit that might stray from the idea of a peaceful surrender: Roger Stone.
Stone remains Trump’s longest-serving political adviser. And even though Stone has had a bumpy relationship with Trump over the past few years, he was recently spotted in early March near Trump at Mar-a-Lago.
“I spoke to him Sunday morning,” Stone said of Trump on a Monday evening prayer call. “He called me. We prayed together on the phone. He was in an excellent mood.”
Stone, arrested at his home in 2019 by federal agents, might attempt to re-create such a spectacle, which at least one other Trumpworld pundit agrees could be politically helpful. (Stone didn’t return The Daily Beast’s multiple requests for comment on this story.)
Having law enforcement show up at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home to take him into custody “helps from a political standpoint, absolutely,” said Jackson Lahmeyer, founder of Pastors for Trump. “That image, if they come and they do basic Third World-country tactics, if they do that—and that video footage becomes something that circulates—it totally backfires.”
“It’s one thing to talk about it, but if you see it, it will stir a different passion inside of you that will prompt you to action,” he added.
Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung did not respond to a request for comment.
The threat of violence aside, legal scholars strongly warned against the severe consequences of making any sort of last stand that could lead to a showdown between Trump’s personal security guards and New York investigators sent down by the DA’s office.
The norm-shattering, democracy-upending real estate tycoon is accustomed to breaking the rules. However, these legal scholars warned, Trump could benefit handsomely by acting responsibly; there’s a decent chance he could beat the criminal case.
Tainting the regular judicial process could smear a Trump victory in court—and make it less likely.
“I can understand why he might think forcing New York to have him extradited from Florida might be in his political interest, because it makes it even more of a circus and enable him to spin things as even more of a witch hunt. I get that,” Adler said.
“But anything he does to attenuate this makes it harder for the legal process to work through the case the way it should… let’s say the DA overcharges, let’s say Bragg is really stretching to make a felony charge and is doing so for political reasons. The outcome you want is for the legal process to reach that conclusion in the ordinary course,” Adler continued. “What you don’t want is for things to become such a circus that people lose confidence in the legal system’s ability to reach a fair outcome.”
Then again, the Trump campaign has already framed the oncoming indictment itself as a new turn in the country’s history.
“This will set off an irreversible chain of legal events that will tear apart our justice system. If a Democrat DA can target a political foe, so can a Republican DA,” read a Tuesday afternoon email from the Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee.
Curiously, though, if Trump decides to make Mar-a-Lago his Alamo, he’ll force the Manhattan DA to seek interstate extradition—a legal process that suddenly puts Trump’s top political Republican nemesis in a position of power: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. That’s because cops in one state seeking to arrest a suspect in another always need the second state’s governor to sign off and approve.
One defense lawyer who spoke to The Daily Beast called it “as administerial an act as it comes,” essentially a rubber stamp process. And governors’ offices often use an actual stamp instead of the governor’s true signature. But the situation, if it comes, would give DeSantis the ability to speed up Trump’s arrest—or to delay it.
“If and when this thing comes to DeSantis’s office, it’ll be interesting to see if Ron DeSantis signs this right away, or lays on this for a while,” Bernstein said. “If some governor wanted to go off the rails… his legal team could look at it and say, ‘We don’t think it meets a New York state standard.’ Then New York state presumably could bring an action against the state of Florida, and force the governor to do his job.”
And that’s another consideration for Trump. Empowering DeSantis, either to stand up for Trump or play a role in his arrest, seems like the last thing the former president would want to do right now.