Behind the gilded doors of Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump and his advisers are preparing for several different potential scenarios related to a possible indictment from the Manhattan grand jury probing a hush money scheme.
Already a 2024 candidate for the White House, Trump has both celebrated how an indictment would help him politically and complained about how “unfair” it would be. He’s toyed with the idea of trying to create a media spectacle around it and, at times, he’s ignored the prospect of criminal charges altogether, sources close to him told CNN.
Two advisers said that the former president appears to have resigned himself to the likelihood of an indictment, with one close adviser calling his perceived distancing from the matter “compartmentalization.”
Even as there are signs the investigation into Trump’s alleged role in the scheme to pay hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels is nearing an end and that preparations are being made for an indictment, it is not clear yet that the former president will be charged or when those charges could be unveiled.
“[Trump] knows it’s happening. We’ve all moved on to ‘OK, this is happening, how do we deal with it?’” one Trump adviser said.
In the latest twist in the case, CNN reported exclusively Tuesday evening that communications between Daniels and an attorney who is now representing Trump have been turned over to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The exchanges – said to date back to 2018, when Daniels was seeking representation – raise the possibility that the Trump attorney, Joe Tacopina, could be sidelined from Trump’s defense.
CNN has not seen the records in question, and Tacopina denies that there is a conflict or that confidential information was shared with his office. He says he neither met nor spoke to Daniels. Ethics experts said the impact that the disclosure will have on the case will depend on the circumstances and the substance of the communications.
Amid the uncertainty over how the yearslong investigation will wrap, several advisers to the former president expressed frustration at the lack of information around a potential indictment and the logistical complications that would come with an appearance in New York, where Trump would be arraigned.
“We’re planning for what we can: What does he say and when?” another adviser told CNN. “There’s not a lot we can really plan for right now.”
The hush money investigation is hardly the only legal cloud hanging over the former president. In a separate development in a distinct probe, the Justice Department has convinced a federal judge that Trump used one of his defense attorneys in furtherance of a crime or fraud related to the existence of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, sources familiar with the matter told CNN Tuesday evening.
The finding, which was part of a major ruling Friday from Judge Beryl Howell of the DC District Court and was first reported by ABC News, makes clear for the first time that the Justice Department is arguing it has evidence that Trump may have committed a crime. And Howell ruled that prosecutors met the burden to overcome Trump’s right to shield discussions with his lawyers normally protected under attorney-client privilege.
The evidence would likely be significant in the obstruction probe being pursued by special counsel Jack Smith’s team.
Political implications of a possible indictment in New York case
Trump is scheduled to travel to Waco, Texas, on Saturday for his first major campaign rally since announcing his third presidential bid, though an adviser questioned whether an indictment from the New York grand jury could derail those plans.
“If this happens Friday, do we just go to Texas the next day?” the adviser added.
Over the weekend, Trump on his social media page called for protests of what he said was his impending arrest. But he has since moved away from that language after calls from allies and advisers to tone down his rhetoric, a sign he may be listening to those around him.
Still, federal officials, including those at the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, are monitoring what they say has been an uptick in violent rhetoric online, including calls for “civil war.” But so far, it’s been limited to chatter and has lacked the actionable information, coordination and volume that preceded the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, US officials and security experts told CNN.
And while some Republicans and Trump allies have argued an indictment could be politically beneficial to Trump, particularly in a contested 2024 GOP primary, others are uncertain there is any gain to be had from the situation.
“We’re in uncharted territory. We don’t know what this does long term politically. We’d rather he just not be indicted than get some potential boost,” a source involved with Trump’s campaign told CNN.
Trump’s presidential campaign began fundraising off the potential indictment on Saturday, galvanizing supporters to contribute in response to reports that he will be indicted as soon as next week. One fundraising email was sent in Trump’s voice, saying, “I’m not worried in the slightest” about reports he could soon face charges in the Manhattan grand jury investigation probing a hush money scheme.
Additonally, Trump allies had engaged in a coordinated pressure campaign to get Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, likely to become his biggest primary rival, to speak out in defense of the former president.
“Thank you, Vice President @Mike_Pence and @VivekGRamaswamy, for pointing out how Radical Left Democrats are trying to divide our Country in the name of Partisan Politics,” Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller tweeted on Saturday. “Radio silence from Gov. @RonDeSantisFL and Amb. @NikkiHaley.”
But DeSantis didn’t address Trump’s legal situation until asked by an individual from The Florida Standard, a conservative website friendly to DeSantis, during an unrelated news conference about central bank digital currencies, a recent area of concern among some conservatives but hardly the topic of the day, given the revelations about Trump’s legal case.
MAGA Inc., a super PAC launched by top allies of the former president, sent emails tracking which Republicans had commented on the potential criminal charges and hitting the Florida governor for “remaining silent.”
Trump allies acknowledged that this was a concerted effort to force DeSantis to weigh in on the matter, believing that he would have to offer support to Trump.
In a tease of an interview with Piers Morgan that is set to air on Thursday, DeSantis downplayed Trump’s attacks on him as “background noise,” continued to allude to the former president’s questionable character and took aim at his onetime ally’s leadership during the pandemic.
This story has been updated with additional information.
Sara Murray, Kaitlan Collins and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.