It's happening. A grand jury in New York voted yesterday to indict former President Donald Trump on criminal charges. This makes him the first former American president to be charged with a crime. And it could be just the jolt his so-far-lackluster 2024 presidential campaign needs.
The indictment is still under seal, so we don't yet know specifics about the charges. But according to "two people with knowledge of the matter," the indictment against Trump contains more than two dozen counts, per The New York Times.
— Alvin Bragg (@ManhattanDA) March 30, 2023
The charges—filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg—are expected to be related to a years-old payment that Trump directed "fixer" Michael Cohen to pay to porn star Stormy Daniels. (For more details and backstory about the payment, see this previous Reason Roundup.) The payment, made in 2016, led to a criminal conviction for Cohen. But the Federal Election Commission decided against pursuing further action against Trump over the payment.
The fact that federal authorities didn't see room for a case here makes the evidence of criminal wrongdoing seem weak, lending credence to Trump's claims that this is more of a politically motivated crusade against him than anything else. The fact that it's coming now, after Trump announced he's running for president again in 2024, is also raising suspicions.
Whether the case will harm or help Trump's 2024 chances is unclear—there are decent arguments for both outcomes—but it's undeniable that this could affect the 2024 election. Already, conservatives are rallying around Trump like they haven't in quite some while.
"This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history," Trump declared in a statement, alleging that "the Radical Left Democrats" have had it out for him "from the time I came down the golden escalator at Trump Tower." He went on to post several more statements on TruthSocial last night:
"Alvin Bragg has irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our Presidential election," commented House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. "The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account."
"This is more about revenge than it is about justice," said Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, who is herself running for the Republican nomination.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—Trump's chief rival for the nomination—announced that his state "will not assist in an extradition request" in the Trump case.
Even conservatives who aren't Trump supporters expressed qualms.
For instance, former Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.)—who voted to impeach Trump—reupped a statement from last week: "We're going to indict a former President for, essentially, misdemeanor falsification of business records? We're crossing the Rubicon for that? That seems like f—ing weak sauce." Noting that "the feds looked at and declined to move forward on" charges against Trump related to the Daniels payment, Meijer continued: "There are other more serious cases against Trump brought by more sober parties. Alvin Bragg fulfilling a campaign promise to target Trump on these shaky grounds is an historic misstep."
Some Republicans were disappointed in these types of reactions.
"Why can't a single one of Trump's challengers get this right?!" tweeted Heath Mayo, of the reformist conservative group Principles First. "It's literally the easiest lay-up he could possibly give you and no one seems able to take it. Easy: 'The rule of law is paramount & no one is above it. I respect our legal system. The outcome will speak for itself.'"
"Seems to me that no one outraged or pretending outrage on behalf of Donald Trump actually tries to claim he's not guilty," Bill Kristol tweeted.
OK, I'm sick of all the pretend indignation by Republicans terrified of Trump and/or Trump supporters.
I dare them all: Say you believe Trump is innocent.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 31, 2023
Meanwhile, Bill O'Reilly suggested that Trump's prosecution would distract from more important issues:
.@BillOReilly joins @ChrisCuomo to weigh in on the indictment of Donald Trump: "Now, we're going to have more hatred. … We've got a lot of problems to solve here in America, but they're not gonna be solved. It's gonna be all about Trump."
— NewsNation (@NewsNation) March 31, 2023
But the Republicans rushing to Trump's defense vastly outnumbered other types of responses. And this "scramble to come to Trump's defense" might prove "a pivotal moment" in Trump's comeback, suggests Time's Molly Ball:
Just a few months ago, Republicans' disappointing performance in the midterms marked the third straight national election Trump tanked for the GOP, and a new consensus began to form: he was weak, a loser, yesterday's news. With at least five civil and criminal investigations percolating and a new generation of candidates in the mix, it was finally time for Republicans to cut the cord.
But when the time came to actually stand up to him, Trump's primary rivals and political enablers were too cowardly or calculating to throw much of a punch.
While Trump's campaign launch was lackluster, the indictment may prove the jolt it needs among his own party.
Indeed, "Trump's indictment…breathes new life into his favorite campaign tactic—running as the aggrieved victim of a Democratic-run Deep State hellbent on keeping him and his supporters out of power," writes Mark Niquette at Bloomberg. "Just when Republicans were beginning to believe that Trump was vulnerable if he ran a campaign about all the people he believes are out to punish him, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg gave the one-term ex-president no reason to change his tune."
Fox News hosts who had been souring on Trump (at least in private) also rushed publicly to his defense yesterday.
Democrats, Media Want More
Meanwhile, a lot of Democrats have been expressing variations on the same sentiment—look, no one is above the law!—while suggesting that Trump could or should be indicted for more serious transgressions.
"No one is above the law," tweeted Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.). "Still, the former President's crimes go far beyond what he has been indicted for here."
"No one in this country is above the law—including former President Trump," said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) in a statement, calling the Manhattan indictment "only the beginning" of how Trump should be held accountable. "It's time that we ensure Trump is banned from running for any public office again and from there, finally take action to fix our democracy."
Some commentators suggested that this indictment could somehow get the ball rolling on other charges. "Other pending cases involving Jan. 6, classified records, and election interference are much more straightforward," wrote Slate's Mark Joseph Sten. "Perhaps Bragg's move will embolden other prosecutors to bring charges related to the former president's alleged misconduct in these arenas. If so, that domino effect may be the case's most important legacy."
That's not really how prosecutions work. But it is a good example of the liberal wishcasting around this prosecution.
Other media outlets suggested this prosecution was a mistake precisely because it might detract from other, more serious prosecutions.
"The legal case against him in Fulton County, Georgia, where he is accused of interfering with election results looks much stronger. If Donald Trump is to be prosecuted, it should be for something that cannot be dismissed as a technicality," tweeted The Economist.
"Of the long list of alleged violations, the likely charges on which a grand jury in New York state voted to indict him are perhaps the least compelling," editorialized The Washington Post. "A failed prosecution over the hush-money payment could put them all in jeopardy, as well as provide Mr. Trump ammunition for his accusations of 'witch hunt.'"
Evidence that social media causes teen health problems "isn't convincing." Statician Aaron Brown takes a comprehensive look at the data that New York University professor Jonathan Haidt uses to blame teen mental health issues on social media.
I admire Haidt's skill and integrity as a writer and researcher. He qualifies his view and describes complexities in the areas he studies. He acknowledges that teen depression has multiple causes. He doesn't make unsupported claims, and you'll never find bland assertions that "studies prove" in his work, which is regrettably common in mainstream accounts.
And he's a model of transparency. Haidt posted a Google Doc in February 2019 listing 301 studies (to date) from which he has derived his conclusions, he began inviting "comments from critics and the broader research community."
I don't know Haidt personally and didn't receive an invitation to scrutinize his research four years ago. But more recently, I decided to do just that. I found that the evidence not only doesn't support his claim about teen health and mental health; it undermines it."
Go here for Brown's detailed explanation for why the evidence isn't convincing.
More states are banning gender transition care for minors. In Kentucky, both houses—where Republicans hold majorities—voted to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear's veto of Senate Bill 150, which prohibits any sort of gender transition treatments for those under age 18.
The Kentucky bill—which USA Today deemed "one of country's strictest anti-trans bills"—also says teachers can't have conversations about sexual orientation or gender identity with students of any age, and requires schools to ban transgender students from using bathrooms associated with their gender identities.
In neighboring West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill banning gender transition treatments for minors. Like the Kentucky bill (and legislation that has passed in other states), this includes not just surgical procedures but puberty blockers and hormone therapy.
The Free Speech Coalition just published a report on the financial discrimination sex workers and other adult industry members are facing at alarming rates. https://t.co/bIl4agzBfJ
— Alison Boden (@AlisonBodenFSC) March 30, 2023
• The "digital blackface" argument was "transparent, racebaiting, outrage fodder even when it was new; now, it is all of that and tired," writes Kat Rosenfield at Unherd.
• Elon Musk, Andrew Yang, and Steve Wozniak have proposed an A.I. pause. It's a bad idea—and it won't work anyway, writes Reason's Ron Bailey.