Trump Says He'll Be Arrested, Invites Protest, Derails GOP Confab : The NPR Politics Podcast The former president's announced on social media that he'd soon be arrested, apparently referring to an ongoing state investigation in New York over his hush money payments to adult film actor Stormy Daniels. Trump invited his supporters to protest. The president's post derailed the ongoing House Republican retreat in Florida, where GOP members denounced New York's investigation into the former president and are once again torn between distancing themselves from his alleged actions and alienating his base.

This episode: White House correspondent Asma Khalid, congressional correspondent Susan Davis, and national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson.

The podcast is produced by Elena Moore and Casey Morell. It is edited by Eric McDaniel. Our executive producer is Muthoni Muturi. Research and fact-checking by Devin Speak.

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Trump Says He'll Be Arrested, Invites Protest, Derails GOP Confab

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LIZ: Hi. This is Liz (ph) from Carmel, Ind., sitting here with my 2-year-old son, Ben (ph), on World Down Syndrome Day, the day we celebrate those like Ben who were born with three copies of the 21st chromosome. This podcast was recorded at...


2:04 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, March 21 of 2023.

LIZ: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but I'll still know what a lucky mama I am. OK, here's the show.

BEN: (Vocalizing).



KHALID: I love to hear from another Hoosier, always - always loving that on our show. Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: And I'm Carrie Johnson, national justice correspondent.

KHALID: And down in Florida this week at the retreat, House Republicans are rallying around former President Donald Trump after the former president announced on social media that he might be arrested by the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat. And before we dive into the politics of this, Carrie, I want to start with you on what the Manhattan DA is reportedly investigating here. What is the alleged crime?

JOHNSON: DA Bragg seems to be looking into some hush money payments that the Trump Organization and Donald Trump himself gave to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who says she had an affair with Trump years and years ago. A few weeks before the 2016 election, Trump's then-fixer, Michael Cohen, wired money or sent money to Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, in an effort to apparently keep her quiet in the waning weeks of the 2016 election where Trump was a candidate. And Cohen, who has since pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with those checks, says he was reimbursed by Trump with checks that Donald Trump himself signed, and the DA's office seems to be investigating whether any business records were falsified and whether any underlying crime may have been covered up by these payments and these record falsifications. We should note that Donald Trump has denied having an affair with Stormy Daniels, but he has acknowledged authorizing those payments.

KHALID: We've known about this storyline for a while. Do we have any sense of why this is being investigated at this moment, and also why the former president feels so convinced that he is on the precipice of being arrested?

JOHNSON: The last time Donald Trump told us something was when the FBI showed up at Mar-a-Lago with a search warrant, which proved to be true and very serious. So even though the former president indicated over the weekend he expected to be arrested on Tuesday, it's Tuesday afternoon. That hasn't happened yet. But we do know that there are cameras outside the federal courthouse in New York City and that people like Michael Cohen and Robert Costello, who once represented Michael Cohen, and others have been showing up to give testimony before the grand jury.

KHALID: And Deirdre, you're down in Florida where House Republicans are gathering for this retreat. And presumably, they were there to discuss policy ideas, but it seems like what's going on with Donald Trump has kind of overtaken that agenda. What are you hearing?

WALSH: It has. I mean, House Republicans have been used to, over the years, being thrown off their own message by a social media post by the former president. So the dynamic is sort of not entirely new, but when it comes to what Trump announced over the weekend or what Trump claimed over the weekend, that he was going to be indicted and arrested, you know, House Republicans mostly have been on the same page. They've been attacking Alvin Bragg and attacking the process, dismissing the decision to investigate this matter as political and an abuse of power. They haven't been commenting on Trump's behavior. It's mostly been focused on attacking this particular prosecutor.

KHALID: This strikes me, though, that what you're describing as kind of this perpetual difficulty that House Republicans have in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency is just how much he can dictate the news cycle or dictate even the policy focus of House Republicans.

WALSH: He has. I mean, and now they're making themselves part of the story because yesterday, three chairmen, House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, House Oversight Chair Jim Comer, the administration panel chair, Bryan Steil, announced their own investigation of this prosecutor, Alvin Bragg. They sent him a letter demanding documents and testimony saying they want him to show up in person and appear, giving him a deadline of Thursday. So there's almost ensuring that the conversation about Trump's legal situation is going to continue on Capitol Hill. And I think they're, you know, putting themselves in this position of acting as his ally. At the same time, they're complaining about a political investigation while they launch their own.

But I think it just proves, as we've learned over and over again, how dominant Trump is as a force in the Republican Party. Lawmakers say they're hearing from their voters and people are angry about the process, so they feel like they have to respond. Even if they're not necessarily strong supporters of Trump - some of them represent swing districts where he's not super popular - they do hear from the base, and I think that there's always a concern about getting crosswise with a Republican base that is still very solidly behind Donald Trump.

JOHNSON: Just to underscore here, the idea that three House Republican chairmen are making demands of an elected local prosecutor in New York City and raising questions about his funding is really extraordinary. And DA Bragg's office yesterday put out a statement saying they're not going to be intimidated by efforts to undermine the justice process. Democrat Jamie Raskin said that this is an astonishing and unprecedented abuse of power. He accused these chairmen in the House of trying to interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation and said it was basically totally out of line. And as for their demands to get Alvin Bragg to show up or provide information about a sensitive criminal investigation, that's not going to happen.

KHALID: All right. Let's take a quick break, and we'll have lots more to discuss in just a moment.

And we're back. And Deirdre, because you're down in Orlando, Fla., at this House Republican retreat, I want to ask - I mean, I realize that it seems like the former president's actions and comments have kind of overtaken, perhaps, some of what this retreat was supposed to be about, but what are the actual agenda items here? What were they planning to talk about?

WALSH: I mean, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy talked about what they've done since they've taken over the majority in January, and he's trying to preview what's coming up. He's talking about their efforts to pass a big energy package that's going to be on the House floor next week. They're talking about this Parents' Bill of Rights bill that they're voting on this week that would emphasize the role of parents to decide on school curriculum and budget matters for school districts. Republican leaders were forced to rejigger their agenda to deal with the instability in the banking sector right now. So there's been a lot of questions about what's Congress going to do, what's Congress' role, and they're talking about hearings and committing to some sort of response, but it's sort of unclear what that's going to be. But you're right. I mean, I think in an ideal world, they would want to put out this message about how things have changed, how the House is run differently, how they're trying to do some bipartisan things like addressing the threats from China. But over and over again, they're talking about defending Trump. I will say there was one moment where the speaker did break with the former president because Trump posted on social media he wanted to come out and protest, and the speaker actually did say he disagreed with that.

KHALID: So, I mean, one of the things, Deirdre, I've been struck by is within the last 48 hours, it's become, I think, abundantly clear how much of a pull Donald Trump still has on his party, right? There are all these prognosticators saying will he or will he not actually be the Republican nominee in 2024, and it feels like over the last 48 hours, we've seen just how difficult it is for Republicans, whether they're in the House or whether they're no longer in the House, to really criticize him. I mean, I'm thinking of even folks who had, I think, in recent weeks tried to create some distance, say, like the former vice president, Mike Pence. You've seen them rally around him. And if anything, these comments, it seems to have bolstered his standing within his own party.

WALSH: Right. It does just show you how much of a hold Trump still has on the base. I mean, as you mentioned, Mike Pence, who's definitely trying to create some space between himself and President Trump on things like January 6, did come out and criticize the New York prosecutor. Down in Florida, the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who's expected to announce he's going to run for president sometime in the next couple of months, also came out and criticized the case. He took a little bit of a jab at former President Trump, saying he didn't know anything about what's involved in paying hush money to an adult film star, but he did take a couple of shots at Alvin Bragg.

So it just shows you how much pressure there is on Republican leaders both in Congress and those thinking about challenging Trump to defend him from, you know, what they see or what the base is telling them is sort of unfair political treatment. But I don't know how you walk that line. If you really want to challenge Trump, I mean, this is a place where you separate from him, and they don't seem to be able to do that.

KHALID: So before we wrap up today's show, you know, Carrie, I do think it is important to be very clear here that the person who is alleging that Trump is about to be arrested is Trump himself. And we don't yet know when an indictment may come down, but can you give us a sense of what that would look like in practice? I mean, how do you arrest a man who has Secret Service protection?

JOHNSON: That's an interesting question, and we know that before the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago, there was contact between the FBI and the Secret Service. We also know that authorities at the federal and the state level in New York have been talking about what might happen there in the event of an indictment of the former president. And the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, has said he's confident in the security posture. We've seen some gates and bike racks go up in New York and around the U.S. Capitol overnight, and we know that federal and state and local authorities, not just in New York and Washington but also in Florida, are monitoring social media and on the lookout for possible violent extremism.

Of course, this is all happening in the shadow of January 6. I spend most of my days for NPR in the courthouse covering trials of people accused of seditious conspiracy and beating up police officers on January 6. So everyone wants to avoid that kind of situation. The authorities say they have things under control, and they're keeping a watch on them, but, of course, it's something that's of concern given what happened in 2021.

KHALID: Sure. I think that's on a lot of people's minds as we see what could potentially unfold over the next few days. All right. Well, that is a wrap for today's show. We're going to leave it there. I'm Asma Khalid. I cover the White House.

WALSH: I'm Deirdre Walsh. I cover Congress.

JOHNSON: And I'm Carrie Johnson. I cover the Justice Department.

KHALID: And thank you all, as always, for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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