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Trump arrest plunges White House race into uncharted territory

Washington, April 5 (AFP/APP): US voters woke Wednesday after Donald Trump’s arraignment in New York to a uniquely uncertain 2024 presidential election landscape, where the leading Republican candidate faces trial and the incumbent, Joe Biden, has not even confirmed he’s running.

Trump pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 34 felony charges linked to alleged attempts to silence damaging personal information during his triumphant 2016 race for the White House.

The man who went from 1980s playboy real estate magnate, to TV reality show star in the 2000s, then far-right populist president, has now made history as the first serving or former commander in chief under criminal indictment.

But what some might have seen as a moment of supreme shame, the Trump team immediately turned into a battle cry.

While he had to go through the humiliating process of arrest for Tuesday’s hearing, polls still show Trump is by far the strongest Republican candidate. In fact, his numbers have only improved as his legal scandals grow.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche said his client is “upset.”

But “I’ll tell you what: he’s motivated and it’s not going to stop him and it’s not going to slow him down.”

Trump flew back home to Florida and delivered a rambling, conspiracy theory laden tirade to gathered supporters, painting himself as the victim of a “Trump-hating judge” and “massive election interference.”

Meanwhile, his election campaign did not wait for the Manhattan court hearing to be over before merchandising a T-shirt with a fake mug shot of the former president over the words ‘NOT GUILTY’ in exchange for $47 donations.

Representative Elise Stefanik, a Trump loyalist in Congress, predicted boldly: “President Trump will defeat this latest witch-hunt, defeat Joe Biden, and will be sworn in as president of the United States of America in January 2025.”

– Troubles pile up –

For all the bravado, 76-year-old Trump is in serious trouble.

During his decades in the public eye, he has shown astonishing ability to wriggle out of legal corners, whether during his many business disputes or even as president when Republicans acquitted him in an unprecedented two impeachment trials.

But Trump is now in the hands of the New York state court system, where Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is mounting an aggressive prosecution.

“We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct,” Bragg said of the felony charges alleging that Trump falsified business records to “conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

Even if some analysts have questioned the strength of the New York case, Trump’s real problems may lie elsewhere.

Reports indicate that a high-level probe into his hoarding of top secret White House documents at his private Florida Mar-a-Lago residence is gathering pace. Another criminal probe is underway in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden but refused to concede.

Time, however, may be on Trump’s side.

Any trial may not start until well into the 2024 election season and there is nothing to stop someone under indictment from seeking office. Back in 1920, Eugene V. Debs even famously ran for president — entirely legally — as a Socialist from a jail cell.

– ‘Not a focus’ –

Biden appears content to sit back and watch the fall of a man he has branded a “toxic presence.”

Last week, Biden went out of his way to take questions about Trump from reporters — only to stress to every single question that he was not going to comment. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also made a point of rising above the fray.

Asked if Biden, like millions across the country, was watching live coverage, she insisted the president was instead working for Americans. He might “catch part of the news when he has a moment,” she said, but “this is not something that’s a focus for him.”

While Trump has injected a giant note of uncertainty into the 2024 race, Biden brings question marks of his own.

His age is a constant source of concern, even to allies. Now 80, he would be 86 by the time he left office after a second term.

And he has yet to confirm he is running at all.

Last year, word was that Biden was looking at a family Christmas holiday in the Caribbean as the moment to take a final decision. But the weeks and months passed, with no word, even if Biden has said on several occasions that he intends to run.

According to a report from Axios, the announcement may now only land in July or even later.






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