Trump based remarks about imminent arrest on ‘rumors’, his lawyer says

<span>Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

Donald Trump’s lawyer has admitted that the former president based his incendiary and unfounded remarks about his imminent arrest last week on mere speculation prompted by “rumours”.

Trump ignited a week of political, media and law enforcement frenzy when he announced on his social media platform Truth Social that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday in the New York criminal investigation relating to hush money payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels. Security was stepped up at the Manhattan courthouse and around the district attorney leading the case, Alvin Bragg, amid fears of renewed protests by Trump supporters, some of whom staged the deadly attack at the US Capitol on 6 January 2021.

Related: Trump says he’s not upset over possible indictment while attacking ‘fake’ case

Now Trump’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, has admitted that his client ignited the firestorm based on nothing more than conjecture. Speaking on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, he denied that Trump had invented the claim that he was facing imminent arrest only to reveal the flimsy basis of the remarks.

“He didn’t make it up, he was reacting to a lot of leaks coming out of the district attorney’s office,” Tacopina said. “And then there was of course a lot of rumours regarding the arraignment being the next day. So I think he just assumed, based on those leaks, that was what was going to happen.”

The Daniels hush money case appears to be the most advanced of the multiple legal threats currently bearing down on Trump. While no charges were brought last week, the grand jury could reconvene Monday with an arraignment possible as early as the end of the day.

Trump has placed the Manhattan case at the front and centre of his 2024 presidential bid. He has been furiously fundraising on the back of what he has called the “witch-hunt” against him, bombarding his supporters with a blitzkrieg of begging emails.

On Saturday night he devoted much of the first big rally of his 2024 campaign to raging against “prosecutorial misconduct by radical left maniacs”. The event was located – some say strategically – in Waco, Texas, scene of the 1993 siege between law enforcement and the Branch Davidians cult in which 76 people died.

In his Meet the Press interview, Tacopina declined either to defend or condemn Trump’s rhetoric, insisting he was a lawyer – not a “social media consultant”. The lawyer denounced the Manhattan prosecution as being politically motivated and said that his client was being unfairly hounded for having made a personal payment to protect his family from Daniels’ false claims of an affair.

“This was a personal civil settlement that’s done every day in New York City,” Tacopina said. “This had nothing to do with campaign finance.”

The $130,000 payment to Daniels came in the dying days of the 2016 presidential election as the adult film star was about to go public with allegations of a sexual encounter with Trump which he has denied. Michael Cohen, Trump’s then fixer who made the initial payment, pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws involving the hush money as well as other tax fraud charges, and served time in prison.

Cohen said he had made the payment at Trump’s direction.

Trump has stoked fears of renewed violence by deriding Bragg on social media in virulent and racist terms, calling the Black prosecutor a “Soros-backed animal” – a reference to the billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros – and accusing him of doing the work of “anarchists and the devil”.

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg arrives at his office on 24 March.
Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg arrives at his office on 24 March. Photograph: Eduardo Muñoz/AP

Trump has also predicted “potential death and destruction” were he to be charged. That inflammatory statement prompted Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, to warn that “if he keeps it up it’s going to get someone killed”.

Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the Senate intelligence committee, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that he had been briefed by the FBI that the agency was prepared for any protests. He called Trump’s rhetoric “outrageous”, accusing the former president of having “very little moral compass”.

The senator added: “If he spurs on additional violence, it would be one further stain on his already checkered reputation.”

Senior Democrats have expressed some jitters that the Manhattan investigation is perhaps the hardest legal case to bring against Trump given the challenges of successfully prosecuting alleged campaign finance breaches. Warner added his voice to those concerns, saying: “Whichever of these prosecutions move forward, I hope whoever moves forward has a rock solid case.”

Leading Republicans have rallied around Trump, echoing his claim that the Manhattan case is an example of a politicized and “weaponized” prosecutorial system. Last week, three top House Republicans sent a letter to Bragg demanding that he provide information about his own criminal investigation of Trump – a move that the prosecutor denounced as unlawful interference in a state legal proceeding.

One of the signatories of the letter, James Comer, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that Bragg had opened “a can of worms”, warning it could spark retaliation by Republican prosecutors around the country. “You are going to have county attorneys in red areas, in parts of rural Kentucky where I am, who are going to try to overreach into federal election crime,” he said.

As Manhattan remains on tenterhooks, the former president is facing more legal peril on other fronts. Last week, a federal appeals court ordered Trump’s main lawyer Evan Corcoran to appear before the grand jury that is hearing evidence about the unauthorized retention of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida home, intensifying the risk of Trump facing obstruction of justice charges.

In a separate ruling last week, another federal judge denied executive privilege to several former Trump officials, including the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. As a result the former aides, who had a ringside seat to Trump’s increasingly aggressive behaviour in the buildup to the January 6 attack, must testify before the grand jury investigating the Capitol insurrection.

  • This article was amended on 26 March 2023 to clarify the relationship between Donald Trump and Joseph Tacopina.