Trump’s Hush-Money Trial Playbook, Post-Verdict: Anger and Retribution

The verdict in former President Donald J. Trump’s criminal trial remains a mystery, at least for a few more days. Less of a mystery is what Mr. Trump will say and do after it is announced — whatever the outcome might be.

If the past is any guide, even with a full acquittal, Mr. Trump will be angry and vengeful, and will direct attacks against everyone he perceives to be responsible for the Manhattan district attorney’s prosecution. He will continue to level the attacks publicly, at rallies and on Truth Social, and privately encourage his House Republican allies to subpoena his Democratic enemies.

The pattern is firmly established: After Mr. Trump escaped impeachment twice and survived a special counsel investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III into ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia, he immediately went into revenge mode — complaining about the injustices he was forced to endure and urging his allies to investigate the investigators.

“Regardless of the outcome, the playbook is the same,” said Alyssa Farah Griffin, Mr. Trump’s former White House communications director, who began working for him shortly after his first impeachment trial but has since become a sharp critic of her former boss.

Mr. Trump’s team is still determining his plans for the period after the trial’s conclusion, timing that remains at the mercy of the jury.

It is unclear how much the public cares about his trial over allegations that he falsified business records to conceal hush money payments to a porn star during the 2016 election. Mr. Trump’s advisers have been running a private poll tracking public opinion throughout the trial, according to a person briefed on the data, and have not seen a significant downturn in his support, even during some of the more bruising days of testimony. Public polling also suggests a relatively stable race.

But that may change, depending on the verdict. A conviction could turn some voters against him, polling suggests, but even his staunchest opponents feel little confidence about that. And any other outcome could boost him at a time when he is already leading President Biden in most polls of the states that will decide the election.

“An acquittal or a hung jury is just absolute gold for Trump. And it will resonate with a lot of people,” Ms. Griffin said. “He doesn’t want to be convicted for a variety of reasons, but I do think he realizes there’s a way to turn this into political jet fuel.”

Some of Mr. Trump’s former staff members who spent time with him after his previous investigations said that he was in no mood to celebrate after these purported victories but instead sought retribution.

Immediately after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report, Mr. Trump demanded punishment for the people who led the inquiry. His attorney general, William P. Barr, appointed a special counsel, John Durham, to investigate the intelligence and law enforcement officials behind it. But the Durham investigation proceeded too slowly for Mr. Trump; he wanted his enemies prosecuted pronto, according to several people who worked in the administration and who were not authorized to speak publicly. That did not happen.

And after surviving his first impeachment, in early 2020, for trying to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine into investigating Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, Mr. Trump was in a mood so foul that it surprised some of his aides who were relieved the episode was over. He sat in his private dining room adjoining the Oval Office, scowling at the television and spewing expletives, according to a person with direct knowledge of the events.

Mr. Trump often lingers longer than necessary over perceived wounds. “In general,” Ms. Griffin said, “he is completely incapable of taking a win, even when it would benefit him to.”

On the morning of Feb. 6, 2020, a day after the Republican-controlled Senate voted to acquit Mr. Trump on both articles of impeachment — what should have been a morning of relief and celebration — he appeared furious.

Mr. Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast, was in an Old-Testament mode, embodying what he has said is his favorite message from the Bible: “an eye for an eye.” He pursed his lips and lashed out at the Democrats who had impeached him. He waved the day’s newspapers above his head: “Acquitted.”

Mr. Trump conveyed the same sense of grievance, and the same urgency for revenge, after his second impeachment. He studied the list of 10 Republican House members who voted to impeach him, as well as the seven Republican senators who voted to convict. He attacked them publicly and viciously.

Eight of the 10 impeachment voters, including Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who was at the top of Mr. Trump’s list, are no longer in Congress, either defeated in primaries by pro-Trump challengers or driven into retirement.

“Two down, eight to go!” Mr. Trump said in a typical statement, celebrating the retirement of Adam Kinzinger, one of those House Republicans who had voted to impeach him.

The retribution may be more serious this time, especially if Mr. Trump retakes the White House next year. He has already said, without providing evidence, that he holds Mr. Biden personally responsible for every one of his 88 criminal charges in four jurisdictions. And he has promised that if he wins back the presidency he will appoint “a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family.”

The verdict of this trial will land in the middle of a presidential campaign, which gives the aftermath a new dynamic, especially if Mr. Trump is acquitted, said John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, who has been deeply critical of his former boss.

“He will display the sense of injury that he had to put up with it at all because if they couldn’t follow through with it then there was nothing there,” Mr. Bolton said. He predicted Mr. Trump would blame Mr. Biden for the verdict, whatever it might be.

Mr. Trump already has many targets in his sights. He has publicly attacked Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney who brought the charges; Justice Juan M. Merchan, the judge overseeing the case; Justice Merchan’s daughter, who has consulted for Democrats; and members of the prosecution team, in repeated violations of a judge-directed gag order.

Allies of Mr. Trump, including Stephen K. Bannon, his former chief strategist, have urged House Republicans to start issuing subpoenas to people involved in the various prosecutions of Mr. Trump. They have said, without evidence, that all the charges against Mr. Trump are part of a sprawling Biden-directed criminal conspiracy against the former president.

“This criminal prosecution in New York is part of President Biden’s lawfare and election interference against President Trump on many fronts,” said Mike Davis, a Republican lawyer and vocal supporter of Mr. Trump.

“What should come next is the House Judiciary Committee, including the weaponization subcommittee, should be aggressively issuing subpoenas for documents and witnesses,” he said.

In a statement, Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign official, echoed the theme of “weaponized” justice, saying, “President Trump is innocent and the American people know it.”

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