The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Waiting for a Trump indictment has become an arresting comedy

Donald Trump arrives at Quad Cities International Airport in Moline, Ill., on March 13. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
5 min

With apologies to Samuel Beckett, waiting for Donald Trump to be arrested is a bit like waiting for Godot to show up. Only in today’s comedy, Trump never shows up for an event that never happens.

Which allows ample time to consider whether this is good, or bad, for Trump.

Keep in mind it was Trump, and not Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who announced that he’d be arrested Tuesday. Then Wednesday came and then Thursday, and the would-be defendant was still on the campaign trail.

The specificity of his doomsday prophecy should have been a hint that he was fundraising rather than girding for a confrontation with a new archenemy. Within short order of posting about his dreamed-for arrest, Trump’s campaign raised $1.5 million. Not a bad take for an election-denying, rabble-rousing loser. Not to put too fine a point on the matter.

No one expects Trump to be handcuffed or perp-walked, though he doubtless would prefer such a show. He would be fingerprinted, however, photographed for a mug shot and perhaps swabbed for New York’s state DNA database.

And to think it all began with an adult-film star and hush money.

Ruth Marcus: New York’s Stormy Daniels case against Trump is much thornier than it looks

To refresh your memory, Stormy Daniels allegedly had a fling with The Don long before he was The Prez. Concerned that she might spoil everything if Americans found out, especially in the wake of his infamous boasts about assaulting women, Trump allegedly directed his sidekick attorney Michael Cohen to pay her off. More shocking than the deed itself was the cheap thrill he took Daniels for. Only $130,000 in exchange for the presidency? She should sue for something, though I can’t think what.

According to Cohen, who testified before the grand jury, he paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, with his own money, and Trump reimbursed him for legal fees. (Trump denies everything, including the alleged tryst.) Because the payment was aimed at helping Trump win the 2016 election, Bragg might contend, as prosecutors in the Cohen case did, that the money should have been declared a campaign contribution. Trump did not report the payment, needless to say.

For his part, Bragg may be out of his league. Given Trump’s record of deceptions and antagonisms, not the least of which was his role in inspiring the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, one would think it not much of a challenge. But Trump’s record also includes countless lawsuits, which he files with the gleeful frequency of a parking-ticket scribbler in the District of Columbia. He loves lawsuits and must be pretty good at the racket — or at least at hiring lawyers who are.

When Trump essentially bragged that he’d be arrested Tuesday, it seems he was merely staging a puppet show. He wouldn’t be arrested unless he wanted to be. Once an indictment is issued, all he has to do is quietly turn himself in. But where’s the fun in that? The puppets were the however-many who crowdfunded his next foray on the hustings.

And the arrest? We wait.

Marc A. Thiessen: An indictment would help Trump. Maybe that’s what Democrats want.

Bragg’s case centers on the idea that the Daniels payoff was far above the $2,700 allowed for individual campaign contributions. By not disclosing it, Trump may have violated federal tax rules that apply to political campaigns.

Of course, some might think, So the man had a night out and wanted the broad to keep her trap shut. (Speaking gangster here.) Nobody’s knees got busted. What’s the big deal?

Well, the United States of America got a little bruised. Never mind the utter seediness of Trump — election laws exist to protect us from thugs and criminals, some of whom wear nice suits and, apparently, own tanning booths. But it seems questionable whether Bragg has a solid indictment — and more’s the pity. It’s worth noting that Cohen, who pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to eight counts, including criminal tax evasion and campaign finance violations, received a three-year prison sentence.

Democrats and other anti-Trumpers have long hoped a criminal conviction would preclude the former president from ever holding public office again. Would that it were so. No law says someone can’t run if indicted. Trump could even serve as president, assuming he’s not in prison.

In 2016, Trump famously told the audience at a Christian college: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Whether this remains true isn’t clear. As of Wednesday, his “favorable” rating was at 41 percent, unfavorable at 54.8 percent. These numbers have been relatively constant the past two years.

I suppose it’s possible Trump could enjoy some time in penitential seclusion, depending on sentencing if convicted, but I wouldn’t bet the family goat on it. More likely, if he’s indicted at all, Trump will glory in the injustice of Bragg’s folly, raising millions more for another run at the presidency and emboldening his base to save America from traitors.

His arrest could happen any day now. . . . Or, like Beckett’s Didi and Gogo, we could wait forever for Trump to have his day in court.