Trump campaign insists he won't be deterred by possible indictment

"This is the new normal, the president has been battle-tested," an aide said.

March 24, 2023, 5:05 AM

Former President Donald Trump's election team is downplaying the impact of a possible indictment on his campaign, insisting it will not force him cut back, including on his travel.

At the same time, associates boast they're ready to launch a full-throated response to what they cast as a partisan fishing expedition by a Democratic prosecutor.

"This is the new normal, the president has been battle-tested. This operation has been fine-tuned since 2016. Dealing with these types of news cycles, you learn to get good at it. We have a full-spectrum response operation on the campaign that can deal with anything that comes our way," Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung told ABC News.

Manhattan District Attorney Bragg's office has been investigating a hush money payment sent to porn actress Stormy Daniels during Trump's 2016 presidential campaign to cover up an alleged affair. The possible indictment could center on whether the payment amounted to a violation of campaign finance law.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and says the two never had a relationship, though he has admitted Daniels was paid $130,000.

Former President Donald Trump addresses the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit at the Marriott Marquis on July 26, 2022.
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images, FILE

Operatives working on Trump's campaign and in touch with his team said a sense of inevitability has crept into the former president's orbit but that the prospect of an indictment is not viewed internally as a significant new challenge for someone who has spent his political career batting away a string of investigations.

"I haven't spoken to him directly on this since it since it popped up, but I've been in touch with the key staff around him, and they treated it all along like it was going to happen," said one GOP operative working on Trump's campaign.

"The Trump mentality is, you always expect that the worst is going to happen. That's just how they live," added one former campaign staffer who is still in touch with Trump's team but was not authorized to speak on the record. "So, is this a war footing? I think he's been on war footing since 2015."

As the impact of a possible indictment plays out in the long term, sources said Trump might have to stay flexible to ensure he can appear in court or address unforeseen circumstances.

"The only thing is, if he, for legal requirements, has to defend himself, I'm sure he'll adjust his schedule appropriately," said the operative working with the Trump campaign.

In the near-term, the ex-staffers and others who spoke to ABC News forecasted that Trump will maintain his travel schedule -- including a rally this coming Saturday in Waco, Texas -- while viewing the potential indictment as an opportunity to further rile up his base.

And, unlike his 2016 campaign, his 2024 bid is staffed by veteran politicos who allies say stand ready to spin an indictment, if issued.

"It's four paragraphs in every rally speech through the general election," said a second former campaign aide still in touch with Trump's team. "I think they'll double down on his commitment to get out there."

"While being arrested is a humbling experience, there's probably no better way for the Trump campaign to move into overdrive," the person added. "You couldn't ask for a better gift if you understand how to take advantage of it. And he's surrounded by people who know how to do it."

Bragg Thursday indicated he would not give in to external pressure from Trump's allies, lashing out at House Republicans' demand he provide documents and testimony about his investigation.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks in an event in New York City, April 7, 2022.
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, FILE

Leslie Dubeck, Bragg's general counsel, said in a response to House Republicans Thursday that their request marks "an unprecedented inquiry into a pending local prosecution" and came "only came after Donald Trump created a false expectation that he would be arrested the next day and his lawyers reportedly urged you to intervene."

"Neither fact is a legitimate basis for congressional inquiry," Dubeck wrote.

And Trump's detractors suggest an indictment could undercut his support, with former New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, an ally-turned-critic, saying Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that any "profits" Trump gains from "chaos and turmoil" don't negate the political downside.

"At the end, being indicted never helps anybody," he added. "It's not a help."

Still, those in Trump's orbit said they didn't expect any pause in Trump's well-worn playbook of lambasting his perceived enemies.

"It's the same as it always been, as it was with Mueller, as with all these other investigations. It's just attack," the first former aide said. "Once you punch, you just don't stop."

More punches could be thrown as soon as Saturday in Texas, with Cheung saying Thursday, "I'd watch the Waco rally if I were you."

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