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Manhattan Grand Jury Will Take a Break for a Month

The Manhattan grand jury looking at the hush-money payoff to Stormy Daniels is taking a month off, as originally scheduled. This pushes a possible Trump indictment back to late April or May at the earliest.

Is this a good thing for Donald Trump? Our guess is: No. This is a bad thing. The Manhattan case is hard for most people to understand. Paying someone money to keep their mouth shut is not a crime. The crime here is failing to report it as an election expense. If Trump's campaign had reported paying Stephanie A. Gregory (Stormy Daniels' maiden name) $130,000 for consulting services it would probably have been close to legal. For most people, this whole thing looks like a minor accounting error and is not a big deal. It is not even clear that D.A. Alvin Bragg could win this in court.

So why is pushing it back potentially a bad thing for Trump? In our view, there is now a better chance that Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis will come with the first indictment, and that case is crystal clear and a very big deal. Trump tried to intimidate Georgia state officials into overturning an election. And she has a rock-solid case. Not only does she have a tape of Trump making the infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, but she can also put three Georgia officials who were in the office when the call was made on the stand to testify. An interesting question might be: "Did you feel Trump was trying to intimidate the secretary of state?" Since the secretary, his deputy, and his top lawyer were all there during the call, their answers will be tough to refute. The public will easily be able to understand this case and won't dismiss it as a mere accounting mistake.

Of course, we don't know when Willis will bring her case or who will be indicted, but there is every reason to believe Trump and Rudy Giuliani will be among the targets. The foreperson of the grand jury has basically said as much in (very) slightly coded language. Will Willis speed up her case to beat Bragg? That depends on how far she is and how close to being finished she is and she's not talking. But we think that if Willis goes first, the public reaction will be 10x worse than if Bragg goes first, simply because the crime is much more serious and the evidence and witnesses far stronger (a tape and three state officials in Georgia vs. a convicted felon and a porn star in New York). Trump had better hope that Willis is still dotting her i's and crossing her t's.

A new Quinnipiac Univ. poll bears this out. In it, 57% of the registered voters said that an indictment should disqualify Trump from running and 38% said it should not. The latter is Trump's base: about 38% of the electorate. On the other hand, 60% of the voters think Bragg's case is politically motivated. Together this says that if Bragg goes first, people will see the case as political but if Willis goes first, they will see it as disqualifying. Pretty different reaction. We don't know if Willis follows the polls, but if she does, this could be extra motivating to get the job done fast.

One other way in which the sequence of events (thus far) has been not so great for Trump. If he had actually been arrested on the day that he said he was going to be arrested—or anytime that week, really—then the base would have expressed maximum outrage. Whether that would have meant violence of some sort, we do not know, though it very well could have. But now there will be weeks (or more) in between "Trump warns he is going to be indicted" and "Trump is indicted." That's going to dull the outrage to some significant extent, as his base is going to have plenty of time to acclimate to the reality of his arrest. Some of them might still take to the streets, some of them might still get violent. But the odds of those things are considerably lower than they would have been if Trump had stayed quiet. Given that he wants outrage and violence, then his going off half-cocked was a rather significant mistake, and more proof that he does not think long-term and he most certainly is not playing 3-D chess. (V)

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