WASHINGTON, DC – For Donald Trump and the entourage surrounding him, the weekly pattern must now be familiar: like a scene from the film Groundhog Day, they must head into Monday morning wondering precisely when prosecutors are going to throw another book at America’s former President.
Last week’s letter received by Trump from the Department of Justice suggests that we may soon witness his formal indictment on charges relating to the deadly Capitol Hill uprising by his violent mob of supporters two years ago. The events of 6 January, 2021 are now centre stage in the investigative activities of Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, the same tormentor who has already laid 37 federal counts against Trump in relation to his alleged mishandling of classified documents.
The exact nature of the crimes that Smith will now seek to pin on Trump remains unclear. There are reports that the former president’s efforts to disrupt Congress as it sought to rubber-stamp Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win will be branded “Obstruction of an Official Proceeding”, a crime punishable by a fine or up to 20 years in jail.
He may also be charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, punishable by another fine or another five years in prison.
There are even reports that civil rights offences may be levelled against Trump for seeking to intimidate people in their “free exercise” of constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Whatever the precise legal cocktail that Smith is shaking up in the Department of Justice bar, Trump spent the weekend exuding confidence that he’ll be able to survive the brew.
On Thursday, he shared a short video produced by maga.com in which he threatens to “do things that have never been done before” to people who “f*** around with us.”
On Saturday he promoted a fresh poll suggesting that his lead over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – his nearest rival in the race for the Republican party’s presidential nomination – has surged to 40 per cent. The Harvard/Harris survey also found that if the election was held today, Trump would beat Biden by 5 per cent nationally, and by 9 per cent if – by November next year – Vice President Kamala Harris were unexpectedly occupying the Oval Office.
For Biden, there were even grimmer numbers contained in the polling data. Nearly 70 per cent of respondents said the 80-year old is “showing he is too old to be President”, while a majority of voters – 59 per cent – expressed “doubts about his fitness for office”.
But it’s DeSantis whose presidential aspirations are evaporating before his eyes. His campaign fired several staffers earlier this month, a move sparked by a widening gap between fresh funding from supporters and the campaign’s “burn rate” (the amount of money it actually spends). In a video released on Friday, Trump tweaked his rival, saying DeSantis’ “polls are crashing” and claiming that the Governor’s rallies are “attracting small crowds that leave really early… that’s never a good sign”.
While most of Trump’s rivals have tiptoed around the looming 6 January indictment, fearful of offending the former President’s supporters, at least one broke ranks last week. Nikki Haley, who served as US Ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, urged the party to coalesce behind her and abandon its fixation on her former boss.
“You’re going to continue to see lawsuit after lawsuit and indictment after indictment”, she told right-leaning Newsmax TV. “We’ve got to go in a new direction… we’ve got to leave this chaos and negativity behind”. But polls show that only 4 per cent of likely Republican primary voters have so far hitched themselves to the Haley bandwagon.
Trump’s confidence that he can continue defying political gravity is based on the fact that he’s spent so many months doing it. Last year’s relentless hearings in the House of Representatives revealed the extent of his misconduct over 6 January, but only served to cement his support in place.
His popularity remains undiminished by New York’s criminal charges relating to hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The federal charges over classified documents have not laid a political glove on him, with a trial now set for 20 May, 2024 at the earliest. Any imminent charges relating to 6 January are unlikely to topple Trump from his front-runner status in the Republican presidential stakes, and may not come to court before Election Day.
And so, Trump now prepares for a possible trek to Washington DC and another televised circus when he makes a court appearance on new charges and enters “not guilty” pleas to them. In a few weeks time, America could be set to “wash, rinse and repeat” mode again, with authorities in the state of Georgia expected to bring their own criminal case against Trump for election interference there.