At Mar-a-Lago on Thursday evening, former president Donald Trump was still absorbing the news of his indictment, according to several people close to him.
The indictment - a formal accusation initiating a criminal case - was presented by a grand jury, which is comprised of members of the public who determine whether there is enough evidence to prosecute a person and whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
Trump and his aides were caught off guard by the timing, believing that any action by the grand jury was still weeks away and might not occur at all.
Some advisers had become confident that there would be no movement until the end of April at the earliest and were looking at the political implications for Trump’s closest potential rival, governor Ron DeSantis of Florida.
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The specifics of the Manhattan indictment are not yet known, but the charges are expected to centre on Trump’s role in a hush-money payment to an adult film actor in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
At his Palm Beach, Florida, estate in recent weeks, Trump’s mood has ranged from optimism and bravado to anxiety about his future.
He has been keeping a relatively normal schedule at Mar-a-Lago, which he calls “my beautiful home” — dining with guests at the club, playing golf and telling nearly anyone he spoke to what a good mood he was in and how he believed that the case against him by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, had fallen apart.
At times Trump has appeared significantly disconnected from the severity of his potential legal woes, according to people who spent time with him in the lead-up to the announcement of the indictment.
He was also trying to tamp down his own behaviour, after he posted to his social media site a news article with an image of Bragg on one side and Trump holding a baseball bat on the other. Trump’s lawyers were alarmed that he was doing himself damage. He did not repeat the act.
For all of Trump’s outward confidence, the reality is that he has feared and avoided an indictment for more than four decades, after first being criminally investigated in the 1970s. He watched in horror as his former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, surrendered to authorities, which was shown on television in 2021. Weisselberg is only slightly younger than Trump, who told aides he couldn’t believe “what they’re doing to that old man”.
On Thursday, the former president responded to news of the indictment with an aggressive statement, calling the grand jury vote “political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history”.
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He framed the investigation that resulted in the indictment as the latest in the long line of criminal inquiries he has faced, none of which have resulted in charges.
“The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable,” he wrote. “Indicting a completely innocent person.”
At the same time, a large group of former Trump Organization employees was quietly cheering the latest developments via text messages, a reminder of how many people have felt burned in various ways by Trump over the years.
On Thursday night, local police were stationed outside the front gate to Mar-a-Lago. The 100-year-old mansion that serves as the former president’s lavish residence and private club has long been a respite for Trump. But that is no longer the case. Last summer, federal investigators searched the estate. And on Thursday it was the site where he learned he would become the first former president to face criminal charges.
- This article originally appeared in The New York Times.