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Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum

626-376-7460

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June 13, 2023

Former President Trump’s historic arraignment and subsequent visit to Miami’s Little Havana today show the stakes will be high in the months ahead. Essentially, the US as a nation will be challenged and potential damages are unfathomable.

The backbone of the US nation, as it is generally recognized, is based on two basic building blocks. One is democracy and the other is an independent judicial system. Simply put, it is a separation of politics from rule of law. Or example, there was a dispute of the general election result in 2000, finally the court made a judgement call and Bush Jr. was recognized as the President of the US. Case closed; our system worked.

However, the current crisis forced the intractable interactions of our democratic election process with our judicial system. To be sure the interaction started after the general election of 2000 votes closed. Trump lost the election at the ballot boxes, but he vehemently denounced the election was stolen from him. He challenged the result via the legal procedures, but the election result was upheld, and President Biden is in charge.

But Trump never conceded and still claims the 2020 election was flawed. As of now, Trump is the top vote getter as the leading GOP contender for the 2024 general election. If the election were held today, Trump has a chance to beat President Biden. The striking phenomenon is Trump enjoys strong supports from his core base despite his legal indictments. The warning signs for the US are:

  1. Is the public losing confidence that the US judicial system is independent from politics?
  2. Trump is facing severe legal challenges, but he maintains to be a strong candidate. The ensuing trails of Trump certainly will benefit Trump in the election.
  3. How the world view/react to the US political show?

Our judicial system almost guarantees that Trump’s final judgement in the court room will come after the next general election date: November 5, 2024. Will Trump accept the election result? Will there be another January 6th violent protest in 2025?

‘We should all be holding our breath’: Trump’s Arraignment Sets Up Unprecedented Clash Between Politics and the Legal System

Published 06/13/23 07:51 PM ET|Updated 17 min ago

Maggie Severns and Marc Caputo

MIAMI – Donald Trump began Tuesday afternoon as a defendant headed to a Miami federal court. He ended it as a glad-handing politician, working over the crowd at Little Havana’s beloved Versailles restaurant.

The jarring contrast of Trump’s whirlwind few hours in Miami shows how deeply his political fortunes are intertwined with his legal woes now that he’s the first former president to face federal charges in U.S. history.

“There used to be a difference between what’s legal and what’s political. Today that ends, at least temporarily,” said Samuel Martin, author of Decoding the Digital Church: Evangelical Storytelling and the Election of Donald J. Trump. “We should all be holding our breath.”

Trump made his first appearance at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on Tuesday, where he was electronically fingerprinted and formally arraigned on charges relating to his alleged mishandling of classified documents. A judge set terms for Trump’s release, including barring him from talking about the case with his former aide Walt Nauta, who is also being charged, and potentially other witnesses.

The legal events of the day were mostly procedural. But outside the courthouse, another story unfolded— one in which the former president and his allies are working relentlessly to shape public narrative, both among his supporters and in the broader Republican Party. Among his fans, Trump’s constant insistence that he is being persecuted is casting the Justice Department’s investigation into doubt and helping preserve Trump’s widespread popularity with Republican voters. 

Legal experts warn Trump’s strategy is no mere public relations stunt. His insistence that the Justice Department has embarked on a “witch hunt” could strain voters’ trust in the justice system, which is a bedrock of democracy.

“These events and the related, raging ‘party before country’ divide have brought us to the weakest, least safe moment in the history of the republic,” said lawyer Ty Cobb, a former Trump White House lawyer.

A court case comes crashing into the 2024 elections.

Online and through his spokespeople, Trump relentlessly made the claim on Tuesday that the Justice Department is politically motivated. In the hours leading up to the hearing, he called Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith “deranged” and “thug” on the app Truth Social, and said the Justice Department is “CORRUPT.”

His campaign spokesman, Steven Cheung, posted a cell phone video shot from the window of a white SUV in Trump’s motorcade to court captioned: “President Trump on the way to fight the witch hunt.”

These statements are highly unusual for a defendant. But they have helped Trump rebuild a bond with his Republican supporters as he seeks reelection. 

“No matter how you look at this, it reshapes the race for the White House and Trump’s legacy,” said Mike Czin, former spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee. “It ices out his Republican competitors in the short term, alienates the type of Trump-Biden voters that he would need in any general election, and regardless of what happens next, will define him in history.”

Trump’s opponents in the 2024 primary are increasingly backing the former president in his fight against the Justice Department.

As hundreds of reporters gathered at the Miami courthouse on Tuesday, 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy stepped in front of the cameras to reiterate his pledge he would pardon Trump if elected. And fellow candidate Nikki Haley shifted her tone in favor of Trump, saying she, too, would be “inclined in favor of a pardon” if Trump were in prison and she became president.

The trial almost certainly will draw extensive media and political coverage, which is probably part of President Trump’s strategy to not only contest the charges but further boost his standing in a crowded GOP candidate field for the 2024 presidential election,” said Javed Ali, University of Michigan professor and former National Security Council official.

An ordinary, yet extraordinary, day in court

While the hearing on Tuesday unfolded much like any criminal arraignment, the day’s importance – and Trump’s presence – was felt throughout. 

After a brief motorcade from his Doral golf resort, the former president was fingerprinted and arrested at the courthouse in Miami. No mugshot was necessary because there are “plenty of pictures of him in the public domain,” a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said.

The magistrate judge overseeing the hearing barred Trump from speaking directly about the case with his co-defendant, Nauta, but the former president will be allowed to keep traversing the country amid his 2024 presidential campaign without needing an okay from the court, an unusual allowance for a federal criminal defendant..

The Justice Department’s Smith, who is leading both the classified documents investigation and the department’s investigation into 2020 election fraud, sat in the front row of the courtroom behind federal prosecutors.

Costumed supporters gathered outside the courthouse cheered the president – who has said an indictment would only improve his poll ratings – and even sang “Happy Birthday,” the Associated Press reported. (Trump will turn 77 on Wednesday.) 

“While there was a circus-like feeling behind everything that happened today, this was a routine hearing. It was historic because of who the defendant is,” David Weinstein, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told The Messenger.

“This is his base. These are his people”

After an hour in court, where others negotiated the details of his pre-trial release, Trump escaped to the Versailles restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana district, the spiritual heart of the Cuban-American community and a bastion of diehard support for Trump. He was mobbed by voters as he shook hands and mugged for the cameras with mixed martial artist Jorge Masvidal, a son of the exile community.

The visit was laden with personal need for Trump – he wanted to eradicate the indignity experienced just a half hour before – and it had a political and potentially legal benefit as well for the Republican presidential primary candidate. More than 70 percent of Miami-Dade County’s Republican voters are Hispanic, many of them Cuban-American.

“This is his base. These are his people,” said Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck, a Miami Cuban-American political commentator, attorney and former Republican congressional candidate.

“Trump knows he might be tried in Miami. And so these are his jurors, too. He’s persuading the jury. If I was his lawyer, I would tell him to do just this. Shake every hand on Calle Ocho. Remember, it takes just one juror to go with you and the government can’t win its case.”

Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a Miami Cuban-American Republican as well, said the love for Trump in the community is palpable and the criminal case against him has only intensified his support.

“They feel he’s being persecuted, not prosecuted,” Gimenez said. “I haven’t seen this level of support since Ronald Reagan.”

At Versailles, Trump was also mingling with Miami residents who are likely representative of his future jury pool.

While Trump appeared to relish the visit, he has also said in recent days that he does not want the investigations to come to a head in court.
“Nobody wants to be indicted,” Trump told POLITICO in an interview. “I don’t care that my poll numbers went up by a lot. I don’t want to be indicted. I’ve never been indicted. I went through my whole life, now I get indicted every two months. It’s been political.”

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