“He could be jailed”: Legal experts say Trump’s DA threats could result in “additional charges”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is the 2016 hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, received a death threat letter with suspicious powder soon after former President Donald Trump warned there would “death and destruction” if he is indicted.

“ALVIN: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!” the letter addressed to Braggs reportedly included. 

The powder was determined non-hazardous, but several threats against the DA’s office have ramped up in recent weeks as Bragg nears the end of his investigation of Trump, a senior New York law enforcement official told WNBC.

The former president’s attacks on social media against officials could land him in some serious trouble legal experts warned.

“Attempting to intimidate prosecutors or inciting violence might get the former president hit with additional charges,” Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, told Salon. “Even if not, he’s setting himself up as the villain in this political melodrama. Each time he does this it erodes support among non-core Trump supporters.”

Trump has called Bragg a “Soros backed animal” and has encouraged his supporters to “protest” his widely anticipated arrest. In another post, he referred to the Manhattan DA’s office as “corrupt & highly political” before wrongly predicting his arrest for last Tuesday. 

“I think that the judge can enter a gag order to restrict his comments about the case to prohibit threats,” former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade told Salon. “If he violates the order, he could be jailed for contempt.”

In a post that has since been deleted, Trump shared an article with a picture of him holding a baseball bat next to a photo of Bragg.

His attorney Joe Tacopina has called his attacks “ill-advised” and distanced himself from his client’s online presence saying he’s not his “social media consultant,” on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

“I’m not going to defend or condemn anything regarding social media,” Tacopina told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday. “That’s not what I do. I’m not a Trump PR person. I’m a litigator and a lawyer.”

As Trump’s attacks on Truth Social worsen, some legal experts have compared his violent rhetoric around his potential indictment to his rhetoric ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

“All it takes is a SMALL spark for civil unrest to flame up,” Rottinghaus said. “Trump has kept these organizations closely associated with his political ambitions. By giving voice and a focus to people in these organizations, the potential for violence is quick to follow.”

In the first rally of his 2024 presidential campaign in Waco, Texas Saturday, Trump defended the insurrectionists and railed against prosecutors.

“You will be vindicated and proud,” Trump said. “The thugs and criminals who are corrupting our justice system will be defeated, discredited and totally disgraced.”

His language echoed the same rhetoric he used prior to the attack on the Capitol when a mob of his supporters attempted to stop the transfer of power to President Joe Biden.

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However, his recent remarks on social media and during his rally, are protected by the First Amendment, noted Catherine Ross, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University who specializes in First Amendment issues.

“The problem with labeling it incitement from a First Amendment perspective is that one of the traditional requirements is the call to take an illegal action needs to be urging the listeners to do something imminently,” Ross said.

Under the Brandenburg standard, the imminence provision could “well be” a barrier to Trump facing criminal prosecution for incitement, she added. But once he is indicted and arrested, a trial judge can decide if Trump is a threat to public safety and whether it is safe to release him during his arraignment.

“We all have to be on alert for what is going on here and I know it’s hard to keep our sense of shock intact because we have been so bombarded by Trump’s lack of normality and violation of norms,” Ross said. “And I sense that he’s impervious, but this is a very dangerous situation.”

A group of more than 175 former federal prosecutors, including top civil rights leaders like Rev. Al Sharpton, former New York Gov. David Paterson, NAACP NYS President Hazel Dukes and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., also released an open letter Friday condemning Trump’s incendiary attacks on Bragg.

“This disgraceful attack is not a dog-whistle but a bullhorn of incendiary racist and anti-semitic bile, spewed out for the sole purpose of intimidating and sabotaging a lawful, legitimate, fact-based investigation,” they said. “These ugly, hateful and anti-American attacks on our judicial system must be universally condemned without equivocation or hesitation. It is clear that Trump would burn down the greatest values of our democracy, and destroy honest, ethical officials performing their constitutional duties, to escape accountability.

The letter added that his “vitriolic attacks” on the DA and most recent statements can be “construed as inciting violence”.

However, the former president’s attacks on prosecutors won’t deter them from doing their job, Rottinghaus pointed out. 

“[It] certainly ratchets up the political tension about indicting a former president,” Rottinghaus said. “All prosecutions are political but this one has national ramifications.”

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