Trump Is Bracing for His Arrest. What Happens Next?

What happens when a former U.S. president is charged with a crime? We answer that and many more questions about the likely indictment of Donald Trump.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before his speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on March 4, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before his speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on March 4, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump staged an early morning social media freakout over the weekend about the possibility that he may soon face criminal charges in Manhattan. 

While he’s right to be worried—the Manhattan District Attorney is showing every sign of preparing to indict Trump soon—Trump’s all-caps panic attack was matched with his typical disregard for detail. There is no actual evidence that he’ll be “arrested” on Tuesday, as he claimed, even according to Trump’s own spokesperson. 


What is true, however, is that city, state, and federal officials are bracing for a huge moment: The first criminal indictment of a former U.S. president in history. The case revolves around potential violations relating to a $130,000 hush money payment to an adult film star, Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump and was paid for her silence right before the 2016 election.

If prosecutors press forward with charges, the next stage would be an unprecedented and potentially volatile period unlike anything in even Trump’s turbulent presidency. Trump repeatedly urged his followers to protest over the weekend, suggesting he may think that he can rely on his hardcore MAGA supporters taking to the streets to intimidate prosecutors.

With Trump’s freedom and presidential campaign in the balance, here’s what we know about what may happen next.  

Is Trump about to be charged?

Probably yes, and probably soon. 

The strongest piece of evidence that an indictment is near is Trump’s recent invitation to testify before the Manhattan grand jury investigating him. 

Inviting a potential defendant to speak before charges drop is standard practice for the Manhattan DA’s office, and shows that prosecutors are on track to indict, according to Rebecca Roiphe, an expert on prosecutorial ethics at New York Law School and a former prosecutor for the Manhattan DA’s office. 


Trump attorney Susan Necheles has also met with prosecutors, in another sign that the probe is in its final stages.  

To secure an indictment, the grand jury must vote in favor of criminal charges and the indictment must then be signed by the panel’s foreperson. Until that happens, nothing is final, and Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg could still decide against bringing a criminal case. 

If Trump is charged, what happens next?

This case would be anything but typical, so prepare for curveballs. 

A lot will depend on how Bragg decides to proceed, and whether he wants to make exceptions in the name of security, or show Trump isn’t above the law by treating him exactly like everyone else. 

Typically speaking, if Manhattan prosecutors decided to press forward with charges against a high-profile target, they would negotiate a surrender date with the defendant’s lawyers.

The defendant would arrive at DA headquarters for booking and then proceed to a courtroom for arraignment. 

For an example of how this works for a normal person, look no further than the September 2022 arrest of Trump’s former White House aide Steve Bannon.

Bannon appeared in Manhattan only hours after anyone on the outside knew about his surrender date. He was then marched in handcuffs down a hallway filled with reporters to a courtroom, where he entered a not guilty plea and was released. 


The Secret Service, which still protects Trump as a former president, is likely to do everything in its power to keep the public at a safe distance, however. 

In the Trump case, a Manhattan arraignment would likely involve an intricately choreographed procedure between city, state, and federal officials. The Secret Service would likely deliver him to the courthouse in Manhattan, where he’d be fingerprinted and have his mugshots taken, according to unnamed officials who spoke to CNN

The situation could be tense and unpredictable, though—especially if crowds of pro-Trump and anti-Trump demonstrators show up, or if the former president decides to stage a press conference on the courthouse steps. Trump’s Saturday calls for his followers to protest—specifically, urging them to “take our nation back”—was an ominous sign in the wake of the violent protests of Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump followers staged a deadly riot at the Capitol building.

Bragg sent an email to his office following Trump’s posts that vowed not to be intimidated, and appeared to address the security concerns without naming Trump directly, according to Politico.

“As with all of our investigations, we will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, and speak publicly only when appropriate,” Bragg wrote.


“We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York,” Bragg added. “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.”

Does Trump have to appear in person? 

Not necessarily. 

If Trump’s attorneys, the prosecutors, and a judge agree, it’s conceivable Trump could do the arraignment remotely and handle the booking details at some other time.  

But Trump has reportedly expressed interest in appearing in Manhattan, where he thinks he could turn the scene into a spectacle in front of reporters, according to the Guardian.  

Some of Trump’s lawyers are reportedly against this idea, and are trying to get him to let them negotiate a remote arraignment. 

So… does Trump have to comply? 

Well, he’s supposed to. Trump’s lawyer has said that Trump does plan to turn himself in, if the situation comes to that. 

“There won’t be a standoff at Mar-a-Lago with Secret Service and the Manhattan DA’s office,” Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina told the New York Daily News


Trump, however, is known for impulsively bucking procedures, traditions, and the advice of his lawyers. So it’s worth noting that he could theoretically change his mind, refuse to show up, and effectively dare New York to send someone to come and get him.

“If Trump was indicted and he refused to show up, then the trial judge would issue a bench warrant for his arrest,” said Titus Nichols, a defense attorney and former prosecutor based in Georgia. “Once the warrant was issued, it would be in effect in any state.”

In such a hypothetical scenario, New York prosecutors would likely submit a formal extradition request to officials in the state where Trump is located. Trump spends much of his time in Palm Beach, Florida, but has also been traveling lately for his campaign. 

The burden would then fall on local state officials to deliver him. And the Secret Service would be stuck with the job of protecting Trump in the middle of this weird, tense situation—the one Trump’s lawyer has promised isn’t going to happen.

A clause in the Constitution requires states to honor such extradition requests, however. So Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, or any other governor, would have little bandwidth to block an extradition, even if they wanted to, legal experts say.

Could Trump slow this all down in court, like he always does? 


Trump is known for his delaying tactics in the courtroom. But his legal options for defying this process aren’t good. 


An attempt by Trump to contest his extradition in court would “mostly be delaying the inevitable,” said Jens David Ohlin, Dean and Professor of Law at Cornell Law School.

“He won’t have grounds to block extradition,” Ohlin said. “So contesting extradition would come down to a strategic decision on the part of his attorneys about the value of delaying his criminal case. In many situations, defense lawyers feel that delaying a criminal case is not in their best interest.”

Will Trump spend a night in jail after his arrest?

No, that’s almost certainly not happening. 

This simply isn’t in the cards for a former president charged with white collar crimes. 

New York recently revised its bail laws to include a presumption of release on recognizance for anyone who doesn’t pose a flight risk. 

What, exactly, do Manhattan prosecutors want to charge him for?

Bragg’s team is considering charging Trump for creating false financial records, which is a crime under New York state law. 

Trump’s estranged attorney and fixer Michael Cohen orchestrated the $130,000 payment to Daniels, and later went to prison after pleading guilty to federal charges of making an illegal contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen has claimed that Trump directed him to make the payment, although Trump wasn’t charged with a crime. 


The federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York who charged Cohen decided they could not go after Trump, due to internal guidelines from the Department of Justice which hold that a sitting president can’t be federally prosecuted. So they closed the investigation. 

Court documents from Cohen’s criminal case indicate that Trump’s company reimbursed Cohen with payments that were falsely categorized as legal expenses

This falsification of records appears to be the key pending charge against Trump. Yet to make the crime of bogus record-keeping a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, the records must have been falsified for the purpose of committing or concealing some other crime. 

That other crime might be a campaign finance violation. But the case could be tricky, because Bragg would be applying state law to a federal election, and it’s at least possible that the courts may decide that move is out of bounds. Such a ruling could reduce the case to a misdemeanor charge, which would risk being seen as small potatoes for a criminal charge against a former president. 

So is the Manhattan DA Trump’s worst criminal threat?

Right now New York prosecutors are moving faster than other officials who might charge Trump. But they’re hardly alone. 

In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether to charge Trump over his attempts to reverse his 2020 election defeat. Willis said in January that charging decisions in her case are “imminent.”

Meanwhile, Special Counsel Jack Smith is leading a federal probe into Trump’s role in attempting to overturn the election and the violent aftermath at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and also into whether he broke the law by hoarding documents bearing classified markings at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.