We’ve had no shortage of unwanted Trump drama the last seven years.
If the recent flurry surrounding speculation that the twice-impeached former President might be indicted on criminal charges is any indication, we’ll have no shortage of Trump drama going into the foreseeable future.
Possible criminal charges related to Trump’s alleged “hush money” payment to porn star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) sent the interverse into a tailspin.
Rumors blew up and petered out.
Disinformation about the charges, the prosecutors, and a dramatic perp walk sent social media ablaze.
Disinformation about arrest
First, rumors started last week that Trump would be indicted on Tuesday, March 21.
The press ate it up, discussing where Trump might be indicted, if he would be fingerprinted, and if handcuffs would be used.
They followed the lead of Fox News, who claimed (without evidence) that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the Secret Service were planning the logistics of “indicting, arresting, handcuffing, fingerprinting” the former president.
The source of the indictment rumor, the handcuff rumor, the Secret Service rumor was none other than Trump himself.
"Illegal leaks from a corrupt & highly political Manhattan district attorney's office ... indicate that, with no crime being able to be proven ... the far & away leading Republican candidate & former president of the United States of America, will be arrested on Tuesday of next week," Trump wrote on Truth Social.
Of course Trump was not arrested on Tuesday, much to the disappointment of millions of Americans who saw the dam breaking for Trump.
That didn’t stop Trump from demanding a protest that day. Fewer than 50 people showed up, and most of them were pro-indictment. The failed calls for protest quickly became the target of comedians and talk show hosts.
The Daily Mail, a British tabloid with a pension for publishing fake stories for the conservative politicians who pay them, broke a story at about 1 pm on Tuesday that the indictment was actually coming Wednesday.
Trump was not indicted on Wednesday, either.
The Daily Mail also falsely claimed that “all officers on Tuesday are expected to be in uniform, ready for anything.”
That fake story circulated American media, too.
Trump used the possibility of being charged and the media storm around it to fundraise for his 2024 Presidential campaign - and pulled in $1.5 million in “grassroots” donations, according to statements his campaign made to Fox News.
According to the most recent FEC reports submitted by Trump’s campaign, which covered through December 31, 2022, $1.5 million would be about 40% of what Trump has raised so far. The current quarter’s fundraising report won’t be due until April 15.
The FEC also shows that “grassroots” has hardly been a part of Trump’s 2024 fundraising technique. Of the $3.8 million Trump raised last year for his 2024 campaign, less than one-sixth of one percent came from individuals.
The $1.5 million number appears at this point to be a total fabrication. Trump’s fundraising emails from this week repeatedly use some variation of 15 as goals, suggested amounts and impact statements. One email sent out to some Tuesday argued that a donation would have a "1,500% impact." Another stated donations of $15 and $150 would help Trump amplify his message. For whatever reason, Trump’s team seems to be fond of that number.
Disinformation about potential charges
According to legal experts who spoke with various media organizations, the charges Trump might face include falsifying business records, campaign finance violations, and potentially wire fraud. Each of these charges are typically misdemeanors.
Those experts don’t know for sure because while the grand jury investigation remains ongoing, that information is kept confidential. Those assumptions are based on the people the Manhattan DA has called to testify - including the man who spent time in prison for making those illegal hush-money payments (Michael Cohen) and Stormy Daniels.
Hardly the “deep state” persecution of an innocent man that Trump has tried to make this case seem.
"His messages on Truth Social are very concerning as he is declaring the entire justice system corrupt," Jennifer Stromer-Falley told Reuters. Stomer-Falley is a senior associate dean at Syracuse University and an expert in social media use during elections (shout out to my alma mater!).
The other ongoing criminal inquiries - federal charges related to Trump’s handling of classified documents, state charges in Georgia for Trump’s efforts to change voting counts in the 2020 election - remain just that: inquiries. For now, at least.
The most recent developments come from the Manhattan DA only.
Two MAGA-extremists in Congress, Jim Jordan and James Comer, sent a letter to DA Alvin Bragg demanding Bragg testify in front of Congress. Kevin McCarthy announced a congressional investigation into Bragg’s office.
Trump personally attacked Bragg, as did Florida Fuhrer Ron DeSantis and others, using anti-semetic slurs and accusing the DA of being “bought” by George Soros, a billionaire philanthropist often attacked by far-right personalities in thinly-veiled attacks on Jewish people.
Trump took the attacks even further, calling Bragg an “animal” in an explicitly racist rant on Truth Social. In that same series of posts, Trump also shunned the idea of remaining peaceful as “our country is being destroyed.
Trump started demanding the arrest of Bragg at one point, who later called out Trump for creating “a false expectation that he would be arrested the next day.”
"We will not be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process, nor will we let baseless accusations deter us from fairly applying the law," a spokesperson for Bragg responded in a public statement.
Trump was king of Twitter once upon a time, using the platform to engage domestic terrorists and instigate a violent and deadly attack on the nation’s capitol.
While American media have picked up and run with rumors and lies, most of those stories came from social media and statements from Trump and his campaign.
CBS News spoke to NYPD intelligence officials who said they have witnessed a “significant increase in threats and violent rhetoric from domestic violence extremists.”
Out of the 25 most-used hashtags by paid operators, no anti-Trump targeted topics showed up this week.
However, Twitter influencers known for being “left of center” have done the bulk of speculation and driving unsupported accusations and rumors in recent days.
On Thursday, several accounts claimed, without evidence, that Bragg “lost his nerve,” implying the Manhattan DA was no longer pursuing the case against Trump.
Others stipulated, again without evidence, that Bragg was “told to stand down because DOJ could indict Trump on Mar-a-Lago documents as early as tomorrow.”
As breaking news develops, it’s expected that people will speculated about what recent developments mean, how they might impact current events, and to speak openly about the potential impact.
But when the entire circus around a story traces back to one man - a former President with a documented history of being a pathological liar and narcissistic - a bit of caution would be prudent for those with large platforms and significant online influence.