Trump's legal team considers trying to move criminal case over fair trial concern

Former US president expected to return to hometown for court arraignment on Tuesday

Former US president Donald Trump on the front page of a New York newspaper after he is charged by a Manhattan grand jury. Reuters
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Donald Trump will be arraigned in New York on Tuesday, court officials confirmed, after a grand jury voted to charge the US former president in a historic indictment.

The eye of a legal and political storm will now settle over the District Attorney's office in lower Manhattan as Mr Trump returns to his hometown to be formally charged and stand trial.

The charges are founded in an alleged scheme to cover up a sexual encounter that adult film star Stormy Daniels said she had with him in 2006.

Mr Trump denies the affair or any involvement in hush-money payments to keep Daniels quiet.

Mr Trump's legal team is reportedly considering requesting to move his criminal case from Manhattan to Staten Island, a more conservative New York borough, over concerns that he will not receive a fair trial.

However, any attempt to move the trial venue is likely to fail, as defendants are not entitled to seek out juries based on specific characteristics they find more favourable.

The lawyers have not made a final decision, and the charges in the indictment by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg will be unsealed on Tuesday.

Outside the DA's office on Friday, police officers and journalists gathered in anticipation of any possible protests.

“If he's indicted for paying off Stormy to hush up, why didn't this happen a long time ago? Why did it come out now?” Maria Shkerli, an independent voter, told The National outside the courthouse.

She said the prospect of a former president standing trial in today's polarised America made her “a little nervous”.

“I'm not sure if it's just political stuff, trying to get him indicted so he doesn't have to run … We need some fresh blood to unite the country and I think this is going to cause more havoc with Trump supporters.”

Kate Norman, another passer-by, said the indictment would not change anything.

“They just want to make a show of power,” she said.

The number and nature of the charges Mr Trump faces were not made public on Friday. CNN reported he faced more than 30 counts.

In the 2020 election that Mr Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, 75 per cent of people in Manhattan voted against him. The former New Yorker once boasted that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose voters.

“Corrupt powerful men that do bad things in our society have to be held to account,” said anti-Trump protester Marina Kalasa.

“Maybe this isn't going to stop him from running for public office but at the same time, still like the grand jury indicted him, and I think that's a powerful message.”

Unchartered territory

In terms of his legal situation, Mr Trump is being prosecuted for an alleged campaign finance violation.

Mr Trump allegedly failed to disclose payments to Daniels with the purpose of influencing an election. Details on the charges have not yet been made public.

The central question is what was the purpose of the alleged hush payment, said Claire Rajan, a political partner at the Allen & Overy law firm.

“Was it to influence the election? Or was it he didn't want his family to find out? Or [was it that] he just didn't want to deal with bad press because of his businesses?” Ms Rajan told The National.

No president has been charged with a felony crime, but that is not a precluding factor in Mr Trump running for the White House next year.

“Being charged with a felony, being found guilty of a felony is not a disqualifier under the Constitution,” said Anna Cominsky, an associate professor of law at New York Law School.

Mr Trump has long galvanised his base around the idea that he has been unfairly attacked by Democrats and the mainstream media.

He is currently the Republican front-runner, with a commanding lead in the polls over other declared or would-be contenders.

The indictment is unlikely to change how his “hardcore” base views him, said Clifford Young, president of US public affairs at Ipsos.

“They might double down on him,” Mr Young told The National.

Presidential historians are struggling to understand what the charges mean for the office itself and Mr Trump's legacy.

“In many ways, the Trump presidency is not over yet. We're still living with it,” said Thomas Balcerski, a presidential historian and visiting professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

“To have not just a former president, but a potential political front-runner of a major political party in this country in the 2024 election, to have him also be under this kind of legal scrutiny, is something we've not seen before.”

Updated: April 01, 2023, 5:02 PM