Donald Trump has told advisers that he wants to be handcuffed when he makes an appearance in court, if he is indicted by a Manhattan grand jury for his role in paying hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels, multiple sources close to the former president have said.
Trump has reasoned that since he would need to go to the courthouse and surrender himself to authorities for fingerprinting and a mug shot, sources said, he might as well turn everything into a “spectacle”.
Trump’s increasing insistence that he wants to be handcuffed behind his back for a perp walk appears to come from various motivations, including that he wants to project defiance in the face of what he sees as an unfair prosecution and that it would galvanize his base for his 2024 presidential campaign.
But above all, sources said he was deeply anxious that any special arrangements – like making his first court appearance by video link or skulking into the courthouse – would make him look weak or like a loser.
The recent discussions that Trump has had about his surrender with close advisers at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere opens a window on to the former president’s unique fears and anxieties as the grand jury, which next convenes on Wednesday, appears on course to return an indictment.
Trump’s legal team in the hush money case has recoiled at the idea of him going in person and recommended that Trump allow them to quietly turn himself in next week and schedule a remote appearance, even citing guidance from his Secret Service detail about potential security concerns.
But Trump has rejected that approach and told various allies over the weekend that he didn’t care if someone shot him – he would become “a martyr”. He later added that if he got shot, he would probably win the presidency in 2024, the sources said.
It’s still uncertain when the Manhattan grand jury might return an indictment in the hush money case and make him the first US president, sitting or former, to face criminal charges.
People close to Trump were said to be unsure whether he is serious about being handcuffed and doing a perp walk, but he may be thwarted in his supposed ambitions if the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, decides against handcuffing him and refuses to allow him to be marched past the cameras.
Trump’s advisers have also been unsure whether he actually grasps the enormity of what an indictment might mean for him legally, in part because he has appeared disconnected at times from the recent flurry of activity in New York as the investigation has wrapped up.
In recent days, Trump has generally weighed his predicament only in between lunches and dinners at Mar-a-Lago and playing his usual rounds of golf at his resort in Palm Beach, the sources said.
When he eventually gets settled on strategizing his response to the hush money case, sources said he has been more focused on how he can project an image of open defiance against the prosecution and that he is unfazed by being slapped with criminal charges that could turn out to rise to a felony.
The case centers on $130,000 that Trump paid to Daniels through his then-lawyer Michael Cohen in the final days of the 2016 campaign. Trump later reimbursed Cohen with $35,000 checks using his personal funds, which were recorded as legal expenses to Cohen.
It remains unclear what charges the district attorney might seek against Trump, though some members of his legal team believe the most likely scenario involves a base charge of falsifying business records coupled with potential tax fraud because Trump would not have paid tax on the payments.
Sources said that Trump has also been fixated on how an indictment might be a boon for his 2024 presidential campaign, betting that it would enrage his Maga base and force the rest of the Republican party to fall in line to defend him, in what he has already characterised as a politically motivated prosecution.
In the past, publicity over political and criminal investigations have benefited Trump’s fundraising, and forced Republican rivals to stumble between criticizing prosecutors and defending otherwise politically indefensible allegations.
Whether an indictment benefits Trump for the 2024 campaign remains to be seen given his grievance-driven campaigns have faltered in recent election cycles, with independent voters, in particular, seemingly exhausted by his constant refrains surrounding “witch-hunt” investigations.