Donald Trump didn’t choose to be indicted. He didn’t pick the date he’d have to show up in court. But once the Manhattan District Attorney filed charges against him, he began to choreograph the spectacle that would follow.
As Trump made the journey from Florida to New York on Monday to face the prosecution brought by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, supporters waved Trump flags along the road outside, news cameras followed his motorcade roll out of the gates of his Mar-a-Lago Club, and the major networks aired live footage of him at Palm Beach International Airport walking up the stairs of his newly refurbished red-white-and-navy-blue plane, which he has characteristically branded Trump Force One.
It was one of the few times since leaving office that Trump garnered the ubiquitous media attention he once enjoyed as president—except it was all on his way to being booked for an alleged crime.
Trump’s legal team spent the weekend negotiating the details of how and when Trump would turn himself in. The former president plans to spend the night in Trump Tower in Midtown before surrendering himself at the lower Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, where he will be arraigned and forced to provide fingerprints and pose for a mug shot. Though New York does not normally release mug shot photos, Trump’s is widely expected to leak.
Trump’s supporters are already prepared to lionize the image. “We’ll have a mug shot. For the record, it will be the most manly, most masculine, most handsome mug shot of all time,” joked Hogan Gidley, a former Trump White House spokesman who still speaks regularly with Trump. “I can say that definitely, before having even seen it.”
After Trump appears before the judge, the indictment, which remains under seal, is expected to be made public. NBC News reported on Friday that Bragg’s office will bring roughly 30 counts against the former president.
After the proceeding, Trump plans to fly back to South Florida and deliver a speech Tuesday evening from Mar-a-Lago.
Cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom, but a group of credentialled reporters will be allowed inside, in keeping with a longstanding New York state law. It’s unclear if Trump will be photographed walking into the courthouse—a classic perp-walk moment—or will instead be taken in through a private entrance.
Security throughout the day will be intense, with the streets around the courthouse blocked off. Trump’s Secret Service detail is collaborating with the New York Police Department and the Manhattan DA’s office to securely escort Trump into the building. Once he enters the doors, he will be under the domain of New York authorities and the court, according to Anthony Guglielmi, chief of communications for the U.S. Secret Service.
“Decisions on courtroom accessibility for media and the public are up to the Court and we are working closely with our law enforcement partners to provide as minimal of a disruption to the normal process as possible,” Guglielmi tells TIME.
Throughout the day, there are expected to be protests in the city, one of which will be led by one of Trump’s fiercest defenders in Washington: the firebrand Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who’s leading a “Rally for Trump” organized by the New York Young Republican Club starting at 10:30 a.m. in Collect Pond Park, not far from the courthouse.
The case centers on Trump’s alleged role in making hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to stop her from going public with an affair she says they had. The allegations originate from his former attorney Michael Cohen, who claims that Trump knowingly falsified financial records to conceal a payout of $130,000 to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. In exchange, she agreed not to share her story to the National Enquirer on the eve of the election.
Cohen, who served jail time over the matter and other charges of fraud and tax evasion, made the payments to Daniels directly. But he says Trump later reimbursed him for those payments in a series of disbursements and then filed them as legal fees to cover up what amounted to a campaign expenditure.
Falsification of financial records is a misdemeanor under New York State law, but such a charge is elevated to a felony if the falsification is in furtherance of another crime. It is not clear yet what exact charges Bragg is filing against Trump.
Trump has called Bragg an “animal” and a “psychopath” on social media and has warned that his criminal prosecution could lead to civil unrest.
His indictment appears to have given him a substantial boost among Republican and Republican-leaning voters. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted March 30 and 31 found Trump with a 26-point lead in a hypothetical match-up against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. That same poll showed Trump with an eight-point lead just two weeks ago. Meanwhile, scores of conservative leaders have rushed to Trump’s defense, with GOP House members vying to force Bragg to testify on Capitol Hill.
Trump World is expecting that trend to pick up even more steam Tuesday, following the court proceedings, the historic, galvanizing image of Trump’s mugshot, and his Mar-a-Lago speech later that night.
Sources say that Trump’s remarks will hit hard on his accusation that Bragg is pressing charges against him out of political motivation, an attack that is designed to gin up righteous indignation and a sense of persecution among MAGA die-hards.
In that vein, Trump wants to turn his indictment into a larger symbol, connecting himself with conservative Americans who feel targeted or alienated for their views. “The fears and concerns of a weaponized government are now personified in Donald Trump,” says Gidley, Trump’s former White House spokesman. “He can take that pulpit, that podium, and point out the fact that we are all victims of a government that has targeted each of us because we attend the wrong rallies, like the wrong tweets, go to the wrong movies.”
The president is also planning to emphasize that Bragg campaigned for his position two years ago on going toe-to-toe with Trump, sources say. “I certainly have more experience with [Trump] than most people in the world,” then-candidate Bragg told The Wall Street Journal in April 2021.
It’s a line of defense that GOP operatives believe can resonate with conservative Americans. “He waits until President Trump essentially declares for the presidency, now we’re a few months before the debates and less than a year before the Iowa caucuses,” Garrett Ventry, a Republican strategist, tells TIME. “It just looks overly political, so I think it’s easy for the president to message that.”
Trump announced his 2024 presidential bid in November 2022, unusually early for the cycle and only a week after the midterm elections when Trump-affiliated candidates suffered a series of bruising losses. The move led some to speculate that Trump wanted to become an official candidate early to complicate the multiple legal probes against him, including on his attempts to overturn the 2020 election and his removal of classified documents from the White House.
But now, with an actual indictment in hand, Trump is attempting to turn what would be a nightmare for virtually any other political figure into an advantage.
“He plans to really lean into his fight on this and the point that you can’t have the Make America Great Again policies without him,” a source familiar with Trump’s thinking tells TIME. “There’s no cover band, per se. He’s the main event.”
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