Opinion: From punked to pummeled

Photo/Anna Watts/The New York Times / Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg arrives at Manhattan Criminal Court, on Thursday, March 23, 2023. Bragg on Thursday responded to House Republicans who have scrutinized his office’s criminal investigation into Donald J. Trump, pushing back forcefully against what the office called an inappropriate attempt by Congress to impede a local prosecution.

Over the weekend, [former President Donald] Trump assured us he had access to illegally leaked information that he'd be arrested on Tuesday by Manhattan's attorney general about hush money paid to Stormy Daniels. He wasn't. A team spokesperson agreed that no such information was received but rushed to justify Trump's pronouncement (in ALL CAPS on his social media platform, no less!), saying the announcement "rightfully highlighted his innocence." As usual, truth wasn't the point. Michael Steele, former Republican National Committee chair, explains, "[F]ormer President Donald Trump used a well-worn page from his playbook to punk everyone over his expected indictment."

His playbook strategies continued with Trump calling on his Truth Social followers to "protest" and "take back our country." He asked his roughly 4 million followers to sign an online petition protesting his imminent arrest. "They're trying to intimidate YOU and cancel out YOUR vote!" Then, in a punk moment, the signers were led to a page asking for money for Trump's campaign.

Meanwhile, the annual House GOP issues retreat became less a discussion of policies than a defense of Trump. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy used the deflection, shame, blame and delegitimize playbook strategies: "What we see before us is a political game being played by a local ... Look this isn't New York City, this is just a Manhattan, this is just a borough DA (district attorney)."

Trump was again on center stage, distancing the Stop Trump campaign among Republican elites at the Republican donors convention earlier in March in Austin, Texas. That's when former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie demanded his party "stop whispering" about their discomfort with Trump over his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and his loser candidates last year. Good luck with that.

Given the new House subcommittee, the Weaponization of the Federal Government, it's not surprising Rep. McCarthy has ordered an investigation into the Manhattan district attorney's office. And now, three House GOP committees are launching investigations into DA Alvin Bragg's office's probe of Trump. The committees are chaired by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, House Administration Committee Chair Bryan Steil, R-Wisconsin, and Oversight Committee Chair James Comer, R-Kentucky. They're calling Bragg's work "politically motivated" and an "unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority." Sound familiar? Incidentally, Jordan has already called the case a mere "bookkeeping mistake."

If you thought this legal action against Trump would disqualify him from running for office in 2024, think again. The reality is it may actually boost his campaign, as may other possible indictments in the near future:

— In New York: Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit accusing Trump and his family of financial fraud, "falsely inflat[ing] his net worth by billions of dollars." She seeks to bar Trump and his family from running a business in New York.

— In Atlanta: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis called for an investigation into Trump's alleged efforts to subvert the 2020 election results in Georgia. A judge has released part of the report, and an indictment seems likely.

— In Washington, D.C.: Prosecutor Jack Smith is leading the Department of Justice's probe into Trump's interference with the 2020 lawful transfer of power and whether Trump illegally retained classified documents, obstructing government's efforts to retrieve them.

Trump's playbook will be used in all three, and the results could easily pummel us in coming weeks, even months. Federal officials are already monitoring online increases in violent rhetoric, even a call for civil war, according to news reports. Fortunately, there's no coordinated action in this rhetoric as it was preceding Jan. 6. Yet. But with more legal action against Trump in the works, we must pay close attention. The threat of violence is not going away anytime soon.

Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at deborah@diversityreport.com.