Good evening and welcome to Washington Week.
I am Lisa Desjardins.
For the nation, another test of our institutions and politics as Donald Trump is the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges.
Following an investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a grand jury voted to indict the former president for a hush money payment related to an alleged affair.
To state the obvious, it is an unprecedented moment for the country.
Right now, Trump is the leading GOP candidate for the 2024 presidential nomination.
He responded to the indictment with speed and flared text on his True Social platform, writing, this is an attack on our country and it is likewise a continuing attack on our once free and fair elections.
Republicans rushed to his defense.
Mike Pence, Former U.S. Vice President: The unprecedented indictment of a former president for a campaign finance issues is an outrage.
Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump's Son: My father's only crime was winning the 2016 election.
This is third world tactics.
Lisa Desjardins: Democrats have stressed that no one is above the law, but, otherwise, they are cautious.
Here is President Biden this morning.
Joe Biden: I am not going to talk about Trump's indictment.
Lisa Desjardins: Saying he is not going to talk about the indictment.
Joining to talk about the indictment are Luke Broadwater, Congressional Reporter for The New York Times, Domenico Montanaro, Senior Political Editor at NPR, Ashley Parker, Senior National Political Correspondent for The Washington Post, and Mario Parker, no relation, National Politics Editor at Bloomberg News, an illustrious panel and just right for this week.
So happy you could join us.
Ashley, you know Trump World well.
Your reporting is that this was a surprise, yes?
Ashley Parker, Senior National Political Correspondent, The Washington Post: It was and was not a surprise.
It is something they have been preparing for, for a long time.
It was something the former president was simultaneously resigned to in moments but also sort of believed he could wish away with vociferous Truth Socialing and magical thinking.
And they were certainly not prepared for when it land.
And even though they had broad plans and lines of attack laid out, some of Trumps lawyers were so believing that it was going to come in a couple weeks later, if at all, that they were preparing to take days off.
So, when it actually came Thursday, they were very surprised.
Lisa Desjardins: The mindset now in Trumps world is?
Ashley Parker: So, Trump himself, and this a very familiar playbook for him, but he is now at a point of defiance.
In a reporting today, he has been privately musing about what that arraignment will look like on Tuesday, what a potential perp walk could look like, what a mug shot could look like.
And he wants to convey a defiant posture.
They are coming after me, but, really, they are coming after you.
And so he is now -- he was not happy to be indicted, to be clear, but he is now angry and determined to use it for what he believes could be a political leverage.
Lisa Desjardins: Mario, you covered Trump as well.
I want to talk about this moment in history and that arraignment next week.
What should we expect?
What do we know about what is going to happen and how the Trump attorneys are going to react?
Mario Parker, National Politics Editor, Bloomberg News: Yes.
Well, we know so far that the Trump attorneys are going to plead not guilty.
We know he will fly to New York on Monday morning.
He will stay at Trump Tower overnight as well, that he's already -- kind of what Ashley said, he is already -- this is an unprecedented time.
But this is a comfort zone for him.
He is comfortable being combative, right?
The questions about his 2024 candidacy were about whether he can look forward.
Now he has a reason to look backward and get into that defensive posturing, where he's saying, they're coming after you, here is another witch hunt, here is another investigation, and I am fighting on behalf of my supporters.
And you are seeing that play out in polls as well.
Lisa Desjardins: We're hearing these strange terms together, guys, comfort zone for president but unprecedented for the country.
Luke, I want to ask you, there is a lot of talk about is this a demarcation line for this country.
Do you see it this way?
And if so, how, for what?
Luke Broadwater, Congressional Reporter, The New York Times: Well, it is unprecedented.
I am sure not sure it will change the republic forever.
America has been through a lot.
And I'd like to point out, we have had a president who was arrested before.
Teddy Roosevelt was arrested for speeding on his horse back in the day.
Lisa Desjardins: And you are not joking.
Luke Broadwater: That is true history.
Now, we have never had one indicted before, but the country has been through big things before.
And I do not believe this is going to end the republic or anything like that.
We are seeing a lot of apocalyptic language come out of the right about this, about how we are a banana republic now and there should be big protests in the streets.
And I know the New York Police Department is getting ready with extra precautions for any such protests.
But we have been through a lot as a country and I think we will get through this.
Lisa Desjardins: Domenico, you look at the numbers.
Where are Americans on Trump, his innocence and guilt, and has this divide grown?
Do you see a change in the country because of this or no?
Domenico Montanaro, Senior Political Editor, NPR: Well, I think, I mean, we are at this point in the country that is unique and rare when it comes to politics, where we have this American divergence in our politics, where you see Trump able to really coalesce and insulate himself with his base, not much moves the needle.
This certainly is not going to do that, most likely.
But when you look at the other side of it, independents, persuadable voters and, of course, Democrats have been pre-locked in in saying that Trump should be president.
When we had our poll this week, the NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll, found that six in ten people said that Trump should not be president, they don't want him to be president, that included two-thirds of independents.
It is pretty tough when you have 80 percent of Republicans saying that they like him, three quarters saying they think he should be president.
How does he lose a Republican primary and how does he win a general election?
I mean, those two things are really unique in American history.
Lisa Desjardins: I want to also get to sort of the idea that Republicans at this moment are united around this indictment.
And we saw one example of that was from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the Republican in the country right now.
Here is what he tweeted out very soon after the news of the indictment broke.
He tweeted out, Alvin Bragg, the D.A., has irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere with the 2024 presidential election.
Talk of interfering of elections, all of this.
Republicans are trying to flip the accusations.
Luke, what do you know about where House Republicans are going here and is this a serious effort or is this all politics?
I'm not sure if you can separate those.
Luke Broadwater: They have lined up in uniform fashion in support of Donald Trump.
And, I mean, some people are a little more vitriolic than others in how they are defending him, but there is very much agreement on the Republican side.
They need to do everything they can to support Donald Trump.
It is really because that is what the base voters want.
They see exactly how their voters are reacting to this news in their districts.
And so they're making sure they are on the right side of that.
And whether that's going to be issuing a subpoena for Alvin Bragg, and there are discussions about doing that that are going on right now, whether that is just public statements defending him at every turn, or coming up with different ways, you even heard consideration of legislation that would make it illegal to charge a former president.
So, they are discussing all these sorts of ideas, but you can rest assured that they are, for the most part, going to be lining up right behind Donald Trump.
Ashley Parker: And to bring it back to pure politics for a minute, I mean, it is not just House Republicans, members of Congress, it's people who are running against him or expected to run against him in the Republican primary.
And that is really the challenge and the line they have to walk.
Because to what Domenico was saying, you have these polls and you have these voters who say, I voted for Trump, I voted for -- I was just in Pennsylvania interviewing dozens of them.
They say, I voted for Trump, I voted for him twice, I liked what he did as president, I would be happy to vote for him again.
And the tiny sliver where you can maybe wedge a few off, it's not the hard-core MAGA supporters, it's the ones who say, I voted for him, I like him, I think this indictment is a witch hunt.
But you know what?
I would just rather have a candidate who is not indicted.
I think that is going to be a more successful candidate.
So, it is a very fine line where Republicans can make an argument against him.
Lisa Desjardins: Preparing for this, I wanted to show viewers something, a picture of three Republicans here.
You look at Donald Trump and then you show -- let's show this picture of, there you go, Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Who are those three?
They are the only declared Republican candidates for president.
Mario, does this affect, let's say, people in Florida who might be thinking might be getting in this race?
And whether they do get in the race, the sort of getting behind Donald Trump in this lane (ph)?
Mario Parker: Well, this puts more pressure on Ron DeSantis, who we're alluding, right?
Because to Ashley's point, to Domenico's point, the conundrum that the Republican Party is facing right now is the fact that this galvanizes that 30 percent or so of Trump, the Republican base, that is enough for Trump to stay through a primary, into a general election, that polls show that he would most likely lose, right?
Another poll earlier this week showed that while Biden beats Trump in a rematch, Biden trails DeSantis.
So, DeSantis has to prove to these voters that, hey, I am Trump without the baggage, like he did two weeks ago.
Domenico Montanaro: But you're not hearing it, right?
I mean, in fact, the only thing we are hearing is Trump repeatedly, over and over and over again just bludgeoning DeSantis, who is not even in the race yet.
If you check your email inbox, I mean, you're getting stuff, soft on crime, Ron DeSantis.
I was watching cable news.
There was an ad from MAGA Inc hitting Ron DeSantis.
He's not even a candidate.
The reason they're doing that is because they know that he is probably the only candidate who has enough of that kind of backing.
And what Republican strategists told me this week who I talked to, he cannot, DeSantis, continue to let these attacks just stick to him over and over again.
Because any attack in politics, if it is not answered, that affects your negatives and brings your negatives up.
And what the strategist said to me was, look, you might say, don't feed the beast, but what are you going to do when the beast is already feeding?
Lisa Desjardins: I want to ask -- go ahead.
Ashley Parker: As you can see, especially in a Republican primary electorate where they like Trump's fight and they like his tenacity, they want to see that from somebody like DeSantis.
I have had strategists say to me, if you want to be king, at some point, you're going to have to go and take the crown.
Lisa Desjardins: Well, here is a question.
For a long time, sources who in my world who like DeSantis have not publicly come out for him, though, have been saying, okay, if Trump gets indicted, that is the moment.
This is one indictment that Republicans see as the weakest one.
Ashley, if other indictments come, let's say, from the Department of Justice, let's say, in Georgia, do you think that could affect the Republican race and how Republicans see former President Trump?
Ashley Parker: So, in two ways, this is an indictment that Trump's team and even a lot of Republicans would prefer Trump disappear believe is the weakest, they believe it is sort of ticky-tacky, that it's hard to explain to the general public, and that some of those other investigations are far stronger.
So, there is that argument that more compelling charges might be more compelling to voters.
But the way I think it would really affect things is, again, that cumulative effect.
The most effective messages against Trump are just the fatigue, the exhaustion, people don't want to wake up every morning having to explain another indictment to their 12-year-old at breakfast.
And so it could be the cumulative effect rather than the content of the charges or the cases against him.
Lisa Desjardins: Luke, why are Democrats hesitant right now about this indictment?
Luke Broadwater: Well, one, I do think there are some concerns about the case itself, right?
You have this unique cobbling together of a misdemeanor and a felony, and it is kind of untested.
They got around the statute of limitations on it.
So, I think people are reluctant to be too ebullient about this.
The other thing is look at the posture Democrats usually take when there is something negative happening with Trump, right?
Remember when Nancy Pelosi at the first impeachment, she said this is a sad day for our country, it is a step we don't want to have to take.
It is always much better when your opponents on their heels to not be celebrating and to be taking it very seriously.
Lisa Desjardins: Something else I think we are watching for is to see what happens in New York next week, not just in the courtroom.
But we noticed this tweet of someone who is planning to go to New York, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tweeted out that she says that she is going to New York next week, making a case that she is going to be there.
You must, all caps, must protest the unconstitutional witch hunt, all caps.
Mario and Domenico, I want to ask what you all are you watching as New York City police officers are going on high alert.
I know officers and the Capitol Police are ready in case something happens here.
What are you watching for two figure out if this is a moment that gets out of control or not?
What is your (INAUDIBLE)?
Mario Parker: Yes.
And, again, given the train in New York, too, right, it is pretty difficult to navigate traffic on a regular day, right, so, let alone staging a protest there as well.
But even by all accounts from Mar-a-Lago, we have somebody dispatched down there today, there weren't a whole lot of people just rallying around the outside of Mar-a-Lago as we have seen in previous years as well.
So, I mean, that is where we see some of the January 6 effect happening.
Domenico Montanaro: Well, you wonder what that means, right?
I mean, if you don't see the people on the streets, as Trump has called for, Marjorie Taylor Greene is trying to amass, does that indicate anything as to Trumps political strength?
Do people take this that seriously?
We did see a poll out this week from Quinnipiac where you had a majority of people saying that they thought that this was not that serious of a charge, and maybe people are waiting to see what a jury does.
I have to say, though, that the bar for Alvin Bragg, the district attorney in New York, is pretty high.
The stakes are pretty high, I should say, for him, because there is a big difference between an indictment and a conviction.
You can imagine that with an indictment and Trump being acquitted, he's easily able to say that he is vindicated.
I mean, he was able to say that after the second impeachment where a majority of senators voted for his conviction, even though that was not the two-thirds majority needed.
So, a conviction a little bit different when it comes to a jury of his peers to claim everyone is against him and this is a mass conspiracy, so a very high-stakes here.
Lisa Desjardins: And we should say, this trial could happen next spring.
That is a pretty interesting timeframe.