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Politics chat: Trump says he will be arrested this week

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

We've been hearing about legal troubles surrounding former President Donald Trump for years now. He's the subject of several civil and criminal investigations on state and federal levels. And on Saturday, he said he's anticipating getting arrested this week. We have NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson with us now. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: OK. So yesterday, Trump said he's going to be arrested on Tuesday. He blamed some, quote, "illegal leaks." But then his attorney kind of seemed to walk it back a bit, saying Trump was basically just going on - based off of media reports. Is this a publicity stunt? What's going on here?

LIASSON: Sure, it's definitely a publicity stunt. Donald Trump said he was going to be arrested Tuesday. Then his campaign said they have not been notified that he's going to be arrested Tuesday. His lawyer also said, quote, "we will follow the normal procedures," suggesting that he would just turn himself in if he was about to be indicted. But Trump's politics are all about grievance. Here he is speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: From the beginning, we have been attacked by a sick and sinister opposition - the radical left, communists, the bureaucrats, the fake news media, the big money, special interests, the corrupt Democrat prosecutors. Oh, they're after me for so many things.

LIASSON: So that's the heart of his politics, portraying himself as being politically persecuted. He's the victim, and a lot of his supporters believe that he is.

RASCOE: Well, he's calling on his supporters to protest what is, at this point, his hypothetical arrest, which could make for a volatile situation, right?

LIASSON: That's right. But he's said this kind of thing before. He's repeatedly called on his supporters to fight, sometimes to be violent, asking them to, quote, "beat the crap" out of someone protesting at his rallies. Before January 6, he said, be there - will be wild. On January 6, he told them to go to the Capitol and, quote, "fight like hell." So he often calls on his supporters to do this. In September, he gave an interview to "The Hugh Hewitt Show," and he was talking about the possibility of getting indicted over possessing classified documents. Here's what he said then.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW")

TRUMP: If it happened, I think you'd have problems in this country, the likes of which perhaps we've never seen before. I don't think the people of the United States would stand for it.

LIASSON: So he went on to say his supporters wouldn't sit still and accept how he's being treated. He clearly wants his supporters to be out in the streets.

RASCOE: As we mentioned earlier, there's been a flurry of headlines over the years over the various investigations into Trump, his family, his businesses. So remind us briefly about the investigation that he says will land him in jail or at least arrested?

LIASSON: Well, this particular investigation is in New York. It's around a payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels and whether that payment is a campaign finance violation. The question is, was the payment made to avoid the story about his affair with Stormy Daniels coming out before the election?

RASCOE: And we should clarify that Trump does deny having an affair with Stormy Daniels. Just want to make that clear.

LIASSON: Yes, he does deny having an affair with Stormy Daniels. There are other investigations, as you mentioned, into Trump's handling of classified documents, into his efforts to stop - overturn the 2020 elections. But this one is about campaign finance law.

RASCOE: If he does get arrested, how would that affect his presidential campaign? I mean, he's running for president. Would the Republican establishment stand behind him?

LIASSON: Well, he - if he was arrested, he would be the first sitting or former president ever to face criminal charges. But I think it would probably just increase the split between Trump's base, which is much of the Republican Party base, and the Republican establishment. His own supporters think it might help him because he would be a martyr. His supporters would become even more energized. On the other hand, it could increase the desire of many of his supporters to move on from him. He's damaged goods, even if they feel he is being unfairly treated.

And it also raises the other question, which is, what would Trump do if he doesn't get the nomination? Would he decide to run as a third party? He certainly seems to be in a kind of burn-it-all-down mood. He's angry with the establishment for moving away from him. He actually issued a press release over the weekend listing the different reactions of other 2024 presidential hopefuls and whether they criticized the Manhattan DA. Pointedly, Ron DeSantis, he said, said nothing.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.