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In this edition, the political world reacts to Donald Trump’s indictment, while Mike Pence struggles͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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March 31, 2023


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Steve Clemons
Steve Clemons

Donald Trump is the first former President to be indicted. He may be fingerprinted and have his DNA collected and mugshot taken within days. The Semafor Principals team has gathered reactions from all corners of American politics to catch you up to speed on the latest overnight developments.

In other Trump legal news — there are three other criminal inquiries involving him, after all — Mike Pence is hemming and hawing about being told by a judge he must testify to a federal grand jury about his experiences and observations on January 6th. Shelby Talcott has more on his political strategy, as well as his legal one, when it comes to investigations into Trump’s efforts to overturn the election.

PLUS: I have One Good Text with George Soros on his relationship with New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg, or lack thereof.

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Everything you need to know on Donald Trump’s indictment

REUTERS/Jeenah Moon


The political world is still absorbing the indictment of Donald Trump by a Manhattan grand jury on charges involving hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. He will become the first president in history to face criminal prosecution after leaving office.


Trump called the indictment a “political persecution,” “election Interference at the highest level in history,” and a “witch hunt.”

Despite Trump predicting his own arrest last week, the Washington Post and other outlets suggested he was caught off guard by the move, which came as reports indicated the grand jury was adjourning for several weeks. As recently as Wednesday, Trump had praised the grand jury in an all-caps on Truth Social as he misinterpreted the lack of action as a sign they were preparing to clear him.


Unlike last week’s dress rehearsal over Trump’s social media claims of an imminent arrest, the charges this time were confirmed by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who said he would “coordinate his surrender” with Trump’s attorney.

Trump is expected to appear Tuesday in New York to be arraigned, CNN reports. Previous reports have indicated he’ll quietly turn himself in, but Trump declined to answer a question about it during a call-in interview with ABC News on Thursday.


The indictment remains under seal. However, sources told CNN Trump faces more than 30 charges related to business fraud. That’s consistent with the weeks of speculation that Bragg would accuse Trump of falsifying business records by classifying his payments to Daniels as legal expenses.

From there the case is still a bit of a mystery. Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor in New York. To make it a felony, Bragg will have to prove the former president fudged his company’s accounts in order to commit or hide another, more serious crime. Many expect that prosecutors will argue Trump was attempting to conceal a federal campaign finance violation, because the money he paid Daniels to keep quiet was effectively an illegal donation.

Legal experts have suggested such a case could prove challenging for a host of reasons, including issues around statutes of limitation, Bragg’s jurisdiction, and star witness and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s credibility. Even some of Trump’s fiercest critics have expressed some skepticism and wished the other three open investigations into Trump had yielded charges first. “It’s not a clean shot: Bragg is trying to bank in a half-court heave off the backboard after the shot clock buzzer has already sounded,” legal affairs commentator Elie Mystal wrote in The Nation.


Trump is facing a competitive primary, but Republicans from every wing of the party defended him immediately on Thursday. There were renewed calls among lawmakers to investigate Bragg in the House, while some of Trump’s top 2024 rivals lent their unequivocal support.

“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Twitter. It probably won’t come to that, but he’s Constitutionally obligated to do so.

Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence said that “no president is above the law,” but excoriated the Manhattan DA’s case, which he called an “outrage” that “smacks of a political prosecution.”

Pence did notably hedge on a question from host Wolf Blitzer, however, about whether he would call on Trump to drop out of a race if he were successfully convicted. He said that it was “a long way to that decision,” but promised to address the scenario later if it appeared near.

There was at least one Republican lawmaker willing to go against the grain. Moderate Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. told CNN he believes “in the rule of law.” “We have a judge. We have jurors. There is appeals. So I think in the end, justice will be done. If he’s guilty it will show up. But if not, I think that will be shown too,” Bacon said.

Conservative pundits were near-unanimous in declaring the news a political boost for Trump — at least in the primary election — whose opponents are now finding themselves forced to rally around him as he battles what Republicans voters widely view as a politically motivated prosecution.

“This development helps address two of Trump’s biggest comeback deficiencies: inability to dominate the news cycle, and lack of a good political foil. Now he’s back in his sweet spot — the center of attention, stewing in grievance,” Liam Donovan, a Republican lobbyist, told Semafor.

Another GOP strategist quipped that the news cycle would be like a “degenerate Royal Wedding” where everyone is glued to the television to watch Trump get fingerprinted, arraigned, and potentially handcuffed. On Fox News, comedian Greg Gutfeld seemed to sum up the feeling of many supporters, exclaiming: “He is an OG. I mean he is a badass if he has a mug shot.”

“I just think this is gonna make sure he’s gonna be on the ticket,” he added.

Trump is already fundraising off the news, though some commentators note the $1.5 million he raised after previously predicting his arrest was relatively weak for him.


While Republicans were ready for war, Democrats tended to take a more restrained tone.

A number of prominent House members, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, cited the indictment as proof “no one is above the law,” and urged Americans to let the process play out. Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., who represents a competitive district, warned that Americans should “neither celebrate nor further divide” in response to the charges, and that Trump was entitled to due process.

The White House declined to comment, and is likely to try to stay far away from the developments to avoid the appearance of politicizing the moment.

“We have a saying in our business: When your opponent is digging themselves into a hole, stay out of the way,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told Semafor, who noted the development would hurt Trump with independents.

At a rally for Chicago mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson, featuring Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the indictment was barely mentioned it all. But when Martin Luther King III briefly touched on it, an arena of 4,000 progressives cheered.

“We see what happened nationally today: President Trump, finally indicted,” King said. “So, that’s no surprise.”

Asked about the news, attendees were overjoyed. “It’s the most wonderful thing that’s happened in a century, for democracy,” said Walt Kendrick, 71. “It shows that nobody is above the law.”

—Semafor Staff


White House: Biden is keeping mum about the big indictment. But in other news, he asked federal bank regulators to implement new reforms in the wake of the Silicon Valley Bank Collapse, like more frequent stress tests of mid-size banks.

Chuck Schumer: The Senate majority leader reacted to the charges against Trump by stressing that there should not be “outside political influence” in the case and urging Trump’s critics and supporters to “let the process proceed peacefully and according to the law.”

Mitch McConnell: The Senate minority leader said he was “devastated” by the Army helicopter crash that killed nine soldiers during a nighttime training mission over Kentucky. He hasn’t commented on the Trump indictment.

Kevin McCarthy: The speaker swiftly defended Donald Trump after the indictment announcement and accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of interfering with the presidential election. He said the House “will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account.”

Hakeem Jeffries: The minority leader also hasn’t publicly commented on Trump’s indictment, but former Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi released a statement saying that “No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence.”

Need to Know
REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

The White House condemned the Russian government’s detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, while warning Americans against traveling to Russia and urging those there to leave. The U.S. embassy in Moscow is seeking consular access to Gershkovich, who was accused by the Russians of espionage — a charge the Russian government also leveled against Paul Whelan. The Journal has denied the charges. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. doesn’t know if Gershkovich’s arrest was a form of retaliation.

A federal judge in Texas issued a nationwide ruling that said some Affordable Care Act mandates requiring insurers to fully cover preventative care services like cancer screenings cannot be enforced by the Biden administration, dealing a blow to the landmark Obama-era healthcare law just after its 12-year anniversary. The Justice Department is reviewing the decision and is likely to appeal.

Finland, which sought membership in NATO less than a year ago following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, overcame its final obstacle to joining the alliance. Turkey became the last of the NATO alliance members to approve the country’s bid. Sweden is still waiting for two countries, including Turkey, to approve its membership.

MAGA Inc., the Trump-aligned Super PAC, is buying over $1.3 million in cable ad time targeting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over his past votes for Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts. The advertisement, which begins airing today, states that DeSantis is “just not ready to be president.” Spokesman Alex Pfeiffer said the group’s aim is “illustrate just how unelectable DeSantis is.” A Politifact article from 2018 rated similar statements against DeSantis as only “half-true,” because his votes involved Congressional budget resolutions, which don’t formally change federal spending levels.

The Biden administration is weighing potentially asking Black Americans on the Census whether their ancestors were enslaved. The Wall Street Journal reports that supporters say this could be a way of determining how many people are eligible for reparations if the federal government ever moves forward with a policy.

Morgan Chalfant and Shelby Talcott

Beltway Newsletters

Punchbowl News: House Republican leadership didn’t even need to hold a conference call on Thursday night to figure out how to respond to the Trump indictment news because “they already knew what they had to do, as well as what many of their rank-and-file members would say,” Punchbowl writes.

Playbook: Trump-aligned operatives noted that his indictment came a day before the end-of-quarter fundraising deadline and presented an opportunity to boost that total.

The Early 202: The White House seems cool to McCarthy’s suggestion that the government reclaim tens of billions in unspent COVID-19 funds. “Most of that money is obligated. What is left is important,” OMB Director Shalanda Young told the Washington Post. “It is funding for pension relief for blue-collar workers … I’m happy to have that conversation about why we should be cutting and clawing back pension relief for those folks.”

Axios: The NYPD is telling every officer to report in uniform today as a “precautionary measure” in the wake of news of a Trump indictment in Manhattan.

Shelby Talcott

Mike Pence may have to testify about January 6th. His team wants you to remember January 7th.

While the world reacts to Donald Trump’s pending indictment in Manhattan, the federal investigation led by special counsel Jack Smith is also crashing into the 2024 race this week.

Former Vice President Mike Pence may finally be forced to testify about his conversations with Trump in the days leading up to the January 6th riot after years of resisting efforts to bring him in front of lawmakers and prosecutors to tell his side of the story.

Pence said on CNN that he was still unsure if he would appeal a judge’s ruling that would compel him to talk to the grand jury investigating Trump and his allies. He’ll take the “next several days” to decide, and will be speaking with his lawyers tomorrow to evaluate his options. The former vice president is also scheduled to appear on Fox News with Neil Cavuto later this afternoon, Semafor has learned — though it’s unclear whether he’ll have an answer on testifying by that time.

But don’t expect him to make a big deal out of it either way. He hasn’t emphasized the topic on the trail and is expected to keep the focus of his proto-campaign elsewhere, like reminding voters of his conservative record on taxes and social issues as a governor and Congressman.

“The vice president has been to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina more than a dozen times, and this topic just has not come up,” a Pence advisor told Semafor. “The vice president is laser focused on the issues that people across the country are actually concerned about.”

When it does come up in the campaign, his team is hoping they can bridge the gap between Trump supporters upset with his decision to certify the 2020 election and Trump critics upset he hasn’t testified to hold the former president accountable by branding him a rare consistent “Constitutional conservative” who isn’t afraid to make any political faction upset.

In doing so, they hope to remind voters not only of his actions on January 6th, but his public opposition to efforts to remove Trump afterwards, as well as his resistance to requests to testify on the principle they would violate the “speech or debate” clause of the Constitution.

“I think what you saw on January 6th was a vice president who was fulfilling his obligation to the Constitution — to support and defend the Constitution,” the advisor said. “I think you saw that same adherence to the Constitution on January 7th, when Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer tried to weaponize the 25th Amendment with a letter that they sent to him that he rejected resoundingly.”

Many Republican observers are skeptical that he can pull off the balancing act, especially with Trump defending January 6th participants on the trail — even playing the pro-defendant song “Justice for All” at his recent rally in Texas — and commenting on the legal case.

“I think Pence, to some extent, is in a no-win situation that wasn’t of his own creating,” Doug Heye, who served as communications director at the RNC in 2010, told me. “And whatever he did, or does, is going to anger some parts of the party.”

At the same time, Heye said the subject was still not likely to come up on the trail with voters nearly as much as Republican mainstays like inflation and crime.

Public Opinion

Quinnipiac’s latest poll on the Trump case, released one day before news of the indictment broke, has something for everybody.

On the one hand, it finds that 62% of Americans — including 70% of independents — think that the charges against the former president are mostly driven by politics, rather than the law. The former president blasted out that result on Truth Social, adding “So sad!”

On the other hand, 57% say that if Trump faces criminal charges in one of the many state or federal investigations into him, it should disqualify the GOP frontrunner from becoming president — a result that was noted frequently by Democratic pundits Thursday.

One potential interpretation, via polling guru Nate Silver: “Most voters will regard [the indictment] as a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ and may not know or care about the specific charges.” As the Washington Post noted on Thursday, Trump has been under one investigation or another every decade dating back fifty years.

 Semafor Staff

One Good Text

George Soros is the founder of the Open Society Foundations and a major donor to progressive causes. His text references this op-ed he wrote last July.


Stories that are being largely ignored by either left-leaning or right-leaning outlets, according to data from our partners at Ground News.

WHAT THE LEFT ISN’T READING: Several House Democrats voted with Republicans to approve an amendment to a massive energy bill that would prevent the Energy Department from moving forward with new regulations for gas stoves.

WHAT THE RIGHT ISN’T READING: Michael Cohen told MSNBC he believes that Trump is “petrified” about the indictment against him in Manhattan.

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— Steve Clemons