ANALYSIS | Trump is losing his ability to control his destiny with legal threats-KESQ

Melissa Velasquez Loaiza

(CNN) A former president who is always on the attack will no longer be the sole orchestrator of his destiny.

When Donald Trump officially becomes a criminal defendant this Tuesday, he will be subject to a legal system that he cannot control.

Trump has long conjured political storms, alternate realities, legal imbroglio and media spectacles to blur the truth or discredit the institutions that have limited his unruly behavior. But he will lose that ability when he appears in court at his arraignment in a case involving an alleged hush money payment to an adult film actress.

And there are growing signs that this new reality, which will come with heavy financial commitments in legal fees and blockages in Trump’s schedule, could multiply at a time when he is already facing intense demands from another White House bid.

That’s because the former president, the first to face criminal charges, also appears to be in serious trouble in a potentially more dangerous case involving his alleged mishandling of secret documents that is being investigated by special counsel Jack Smith. The charges appear a growing possibility as the Justice Department obtains evidence about Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.

What you need to know about Trump’s indictment on the eve of his court appearance

New York takes extreme security measures for Trump’s visit 2:15

Smith’s prosecutors have seized daily notes, texts, emails and photos and are focused on cataloging how Trump handled the classified searches at Mar-a-Lago and those who may have witnessed the former president with them, information Monday Katelyn Polantz and Evan CNN’s Perez. The new details coincide with signs that the Justice Department is taking action consistent with ending an investigation.

Former Trump attorney Ty Cobb told CNN’s Erin Burnett that the events represent a serious turn in the former president’s case. “We knew that the investigative steps were underway, we just didn’t know the alleged results until today,” Cobb said. “I think these are very important.”

The case of the documents cannot be the end. Smith is also investigating Trump’s conduct in the lead up to the US Capitol insurrection. Then there’s also a potential prosecution in Georgia led by a district attorney investigating the former president’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election result in the swing state.

Trump denies any wrongdoing in all of these investigations. He has described his behavior in Georgia as “perfect.” And he has criticized the sealed indictment in New York, where he faces more than 30 counts related to commercial fraud, as an example of politicized justice.

But at a dire time for the country, as a former president and current presidential candidate is about to face court appearances, there is also a growing sense that pressure is inexorably mounting on Trump that will compromise his ability to evade accountability.

ANALYSIS | America faces a defining moment ahead of Trump’s appearance

The revealing audio of Stormy Daniels after the impeachment of Trump 1:11

Trump tries to run his own media circus

Trump put on a great show this Monday of his return to New York before his appearance. The winding caravan of black Secret Service SUVs to and from his private Boeing 757 in its shiny new livery has overtones of a presidential move in a power play meant to send a message of strength.

After going to court on Tuesday, he will return to his Mar-a-Lago resort and regain the media spotlight with a prime-time speech that he will likely use to proclaim his innocence, attack the New York case as political persecution and trying to distract attention from the fact that he will be a criminal defendant.

But despite his bravura and what experts say will turn his legal woes into political gold, Monday was a dark day for Trump. He was returning to his former Manhattan turf under duress, to turn himself in Tuesday on the first criminal charges ever filed against a former president. Trump has long been a force of nature rebelling against restrictions and has always been impossible for his people to control. But now he will be subject to the dictates of a judge and to the rules and conventions of the legal system, which will be far more difficult for him to disrupt and divert than the institutions of political accountability he has subverted.

Sometimes, you may be required to compare in court. The grueling pre-trial process, with its many deadlines for legal arguments and reams of evidence for the defense to sift through, will impose multiple demands on a legal team that has often struggled to act consistently. Before his appearance on Tuesday, for example, Trump did a belated shakeup of his legal team, hiring another lawyer, Todd Blanche, to act as his lead counsel, a move some saw as sidelining another lawyer, Joe tacopine. However, the camp of the former president countered this interpretation.

Meet Juan Merchan, the judge of Latino origin presiding over Trump’s criminal prosecution

A criminal process is onerous enough. Trump has not been charged in any of the other cases, but a multi-pronged defense in multiple cases would present an extraordinary storm. And it would further disrupt the former president’s ability to dictate his political agenda and control his destiny. When he came under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, or during his two impeachment trials, Trump exploited his enormous popularity among Republican voters to discredit the allegations against him. He lobbied most Republican senators, who knew they would pay with their careers if they voted to impeach him.

While public opinion will be critical in shaping the political impact of the New York case, the prosecution itself will be isolated. Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, who will preside over Trump’s arraignment, is immune to political pressure from him. In fact, Trump’s attacks on prosecutors or the judge could backfire in the legal arena. And even a former president cannot ignore the choreography of a court case and the rules of criminal procedure.

The situation is somewhat similar to the 2020 election, when the will of the voters prevailed because Trump’s attempts to nullify the votes and change the results failed in multiple courts due to evidence standards based on fact and law.

What about Todd Blanche, the new defense attorney on former President Trump’s legal team?

Trump’s lawyers tried to wrest some control of the court proceedings Monday, arguing against a request by news organizations, including CNN, to allow television cameras to participate in Tuesday’s arraignment. The media argued that the case was of such public interest that it should be publicized. But Trump’s lawyers told the judge that it “will create a circus atmosphere at the arraignment, raise unique security concerns, and is inconsistent with President Trump’s presumption of innocence.”

In a late-night ruling, Merchan denied the request for streaming cameras. However, five stationary photographers will be allowed to take pictures of Trump and the courtroom before the hearing begins.

But the irony of the former president complaining of being the object of a media circus was very rich. Without his salesman’s talent for running media circuses, he would never have been president. Trump built his “Art of the Deal” mythology on New York and had constant fodder for the city’s voracious tabloids with his famous celebrity feuds, his colorful personal life and his business successes and failures. His entire 2016 campaign and one-term presidency were parades of outrage, scandal and lawlessness fueled by his often-triggered Twitter posts.

If anyone knows how to thrive in a media circus, it’s Trump. The difference, perhaps, in this case is that he fears being part of a media circus that he can no longer control.

— Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

The CNN Wire
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