With a New York grand jury indictment likely but its timing unclear, Donald Trump sought to rally supporters to his side, declaring that he would be arrested Tuesday and calling for protests.
Trump made the declaration on his site, Truth Social, at 7:26 a.m. Saturday in a post that ended with, “THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE AND FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
Two hours later, a spokesperson issued a statement saying that Trump had not written his post with direct knowledge of the timing of any arrest, adding that “President Trump is rightfully highlighting his innocence and the weaponization of our injustice system.”
But Trump’s social media post had immediate impact: Within hours, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, one of the most powerful people in federal government and who partly owes his position to Trump, posted on Twitter that he was calling for investigations into whether federal funds were being used for “politically motivated prosecutions,” a thinly veiled threat to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office declined to comment.
Prosecutors working for Bragg have signaled that an indictment of Trump could be imminent. But they have not told Trump’s lawyers when the charges — expected to stem from a 2016 hush money payment to a porn star — would be sought or an arrest made, people with knowledge of the matter said. At least one more witness is expected to testify in front of the grand jury, which could delay an indictment, the people said.
One of the people said that even if the grand jury were to vote to indict the former president Monday, a Tuesday surrender was unlikely, given the need to arrange timing, travel and other logistics.
The statement from Trump’s spokesperson did not explain how he had landed Tuesday as an arrest date. One person with knowledge of the matter said that Trump’s advisers had guessed that it could happen around then, and that someone might have relayed that to the former president.
A lawyer for Trump, Susan Necheles, said that his post had been based on news reports, and accused the Manhattan district attorney’s office of conducting a “political prosecution.”
Trump, who declared his third presidential campaign in November and is leading his Republican opponents in most polls, faced his first criminal investigation in the late 1970s. He has been deeply anxious about the prospect of an arrest, which is expected to include being fingerprinted, one of the people said.
When the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, was arrested in 2021, Trump watched in horror as television news showed Weisselberg flanked by officers in the courthouse, and the former president said he couldn’t believe what was happening.
Trump’s post Saturday urging his supporters to protest and reclaim the nation carried unmistakable echoes of the incendiary messages he posted online in the weeks before the attack on the U.S. Capitol. In the most notorious of those messages, posted Dec. 19, 2020, he announced on Twitter that he would hold a rally in Washington on Jan. 6. “Be there,” he told his millions of followers. “Will be wild.”
At that rally, on the Ellipse near the White House, Trump told supporters to march to the Capitol, where the certification of the 2020 presidential election was taking place. He is under investigation by federal prosecutors for his activities before the attack.
Investigators later determined that far-right extremist groups as well as ordinary Trump supporters had read his tweet as a clear-cut invitation. They almost immediately sprang into action, acquiring protective gear, setting up encrypted communications channels and, in one case, preparing heavily armed “quick reaction forces” to be staged outside Washington for the event.
Leaders of groups like the Proud Boys and the Three Percenter militia movement also started to whip up members with bellicose language, and their private messaging channels were increasingly filled with plans to rush to Trump’s aid.
On Friday evening, Trump’s campaign announced what could be his first rally after an indictment: an event in Waco, Texas, where deadly clashes between federal officials and an extremist religious sect occurred 30 years ago around this time.
Despite Trump’s unpredictable nature, several members of his legal team have said that they expect him to surrender.
New York officials have been discussing security arrangements at the Manhattan Criminal Court in case of an indictment, according to people with knowledge of the planning, which was first reported by NBC News. Trump is expected to be charged in connection with the hush money payment his former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to porn star Stormy Daniels, who has said she had an affair with Trump.
Cohen made the $130,000 payment to Daniels to bury her story of the affair.
The payment came in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, and Trump subsequently reimbursed Cohen. Prosecutors are expected to accuse Trump of overseeing the false recording of the reimbursements in his company’s internal records. The records falsely stated that the payments to Cohen were for “legal expenses.”
There have been several signals that charges may be imminent: The prosecutors gave Trump an opportunity to testify, a right afforded to people facing indictment, and have questioned nearly every major player in the hush money saga in front of the grand jury.
Trump has denied all wrongdoing and denies having had an affair with Daniels.
Any arrest and processing of Trump would probably combine the routine steps that every defendant experiences — fingerprinting, photographing — with the pomp accorded to a former president, whose every move is attended by the U.S. Secret Service.
It is unclear what kinds of accommodations Trump would receive. It is standard for defendants arrested on felony charges to be handcuffed, but an exception could be made. As he awaits his court appearance, it is possible that for security reasons, he would be detained in an interview room or another confined area, rather than in a holding cell. And after Trump is arraigned, he would almost certainly be released without spending any time behind bars, because the indictment is likely to contain only nonviolent felony charges.
Early Saturday, there was little evidence that Trump’s new demand for protests had been embraced by extremist groups.
But Ali Alexander, a prominent organizer of the “Stop the Steal” rallies following the 2020 election, reposted a message on his Telegram channel Saturday suggesting that he supported a mass demonstration to protect Trump.
“Previously, I had said if Trump was arrested or under the threat of a perp walk, 100,000 patriots should shut down all routes to Mar-a-Lago,” Alexander wrote. “Now I’m retired. I’ll pray for him though!”
Without the platform provided by the White House or the machinery of a large political campaign, it was unclear how many people Trump would be able to reach, let alone mobilize, via Truth Social.
And it remained unclear whether he would repeat his call for action or increase the stakes with more aggressive language. But his political allies made plain this past week that they were preparing for a political war on Bragg.
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking House Republican and another close ally of Trump’s, said Saturday morning that the investigation was an “attempt to silence and suppress the will of the voters who support President Trump and the America First Movement.”
Yet two of Trump’s more bombastic Republican allies, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Matt Gaetz of Florida, declined to repeat his call for protests. Gaetz offered a dismissive analysis of the case on Twitter, and Greene followed by saying, “We don’t need to protest about the Communists Democrat’s planning to arrest” Trump.
Trump has been attacking Bragg, who is Black, as “racist” for months. Bragg won a conviction for tax fraud against the Trump Organization last year, although he did not charge Trump personally.
Some of Trump’s supporters responded of their own accord with violence after FBI agents, acting on a search warrant, descended on Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, in August and carted away boxes of documents in an investigation into the former president’s handling of classified material.
Days after the search, an armed Ohio man who had posted online about his outrage over what happened at Mar-a-Lago tried to breach the FBI’s field office outside Cincinnati. He was later killed in a standoff with local officers.
The unexpected Saturday morning salvo from the former president provided a preview of the kind of chaos that Bragg is likely to face if he proceeds with an indictment.
Bragg, a former federal prosecutor and deputy New York attorney general, has some history of prosecuting public officials. But he is unaccustomed to dealing with a figure as high-profile, erratic and pugilistic as the former president, and it is unclear how his office will deal with future outbursts from Trump.