Trump Allies Are Begging Him to Stop Hinting at Violence on Social Media

US-POLITICS-VOTE-ELECTION-TRUMP - Credit: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images
US-POLITICS-VOTE-ELECTION-TRUMP - Credit: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s strategy has long been to never apologize for anything, but after posting an image of himself standing next to Manhattan District attorney Alvin Bragg and holding a weapon, even he appears to be having some second thoughts.

In the days since Trump fired off the now-deleted Truth Social post, he began asking multiple people in his orbit what they thought of the post — and the subsequent uproar around it. According to a person familiar with the matter and another source close to the ex-president, Trump was gently advised to veer away from any public comments or posts that were too obvious in their implications of violence.

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The sources say Trump, in his recent private remarks, also indicated he was aware of the media pushback from some of his allies. Those skeptics included allies who’d tolerated other outbursts, such as when Trump warned of “potential death and destruction” were he to be indicted.

The nudges come as Trump’s team, behind closed doors, has expressed concern over his social media posts, with some of his closest allies suggesting that he tone it down about Bragg and possible criminal proceedings against him.

“Look, anybody who tells you, ‘I’ve known Donald Trump forever, he trusts me, I’m going to tell him to pipe down,’ is overestimating their influence. At the end of the day, Trump is going to be Trump, and you can’t stop him from doing everything you might not do yourself. I could do without the ‘death and destruction’ talk, you know?” the person close to Trump says.

“But when he asked people what did you think of it, some of us cautioned the [former] president on things like the [baseball] bat post, and the message to him was two-fold and it’s a message I think he gets,” the person continues. “One: Don’t give Bragg something he could use against you. And two: Don’t make it easier for these people to accuse you of advocating physical violence. You do not need to give your enemies something to hit you with.”

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. A Trump attorney declined comment.

Trump earlier this month incorrectly predicted his arrest was imminent in Bragg’s probe of his hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. Since then, he has directed a stream of invective at Bragg. (His team has also cooked up a specific plan to take revenge on the prosecutor if Trump retakes the White House.) Beyond the baseball bat post and the “death and destruction” warning, he has described Bragg — Manhattan’s first Black district attorney — as an “animal” and “racist.” Trump also claimed Bragg was “Soros-backed,” referring to the Jewish Holocaust survivor, philanthropist, and frequent conspiracy theory target, George Soros. Trump has also called prosecutors “human scum” and told his fans to “protest, take our nation back.”

Some of his team’s concern about Trump’s posting has spilled into public view. Even Trump’s own lawyer, Joe Tacopina, couldn’t bring himself to defend the former president’s post with Bragg and a baseball bat. “I’m not [Trump’s] social media consultant,” Tacopina told host Chuck Todd Sunday in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I think that was an ill-advised post that one of his social media people put up and he quickly took down when he realized the rhetoric and the photo that was attached to it.”

Other Trump allies criticized the post as well. “Don’t stand there with a baseball ball and a picture of Alvin Bragg. This is bad form by [President Trump], who I like a lot,” former congressman Sean Duffy said on Fox News, a channel Trump routinely binge-watches and has often mined for policy advice, on Friday. Similarly, Jonathan Turley, a law professor who was called to testify by Republicans during Trump impeachment hearings in 2019, tweeted on Friday: “While some of us have criticized recent inflammatory rhetoric related to the Manhattan investigation, former President Donald Trump has continued unabated, including now posting a disturbing image of himself, Alvin Bragg, and a baseball bat.”

But legal experts said while the posts might hurt Trump in the court of public opinion, it’s less likely that they’ll hurt him in his legal struggle with Bragg. Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers who previously served as a federal prosecutor, said of the legal implications: “it depends.”

“Anything he says can be used against him—lawyers often advise their clients not to say anything on social media,” Rahmani says. But, “when you’re talking about what he said, so far related to the Alvin Bragg case, the Stormy Daniels case, nothing he said can really be used as evidence against him. It’s not really relevant: ‘The prosecutor doesn’t like me. The prosecutor is a Democrat. The prosecutor’s aligned with Sorors’ — none of that is relevant, is evidence, and no judge will let that in.”

Julie Rendelman, a longtime criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor, voiced similar sentiments. “Let’s assume that he is indicted or charged with something. Can statements he makes publicly be used against him in court? Yes, if they are relevant to the charges before him,” Rendelman says.

Alternatively, if they’re not related, they could wind up in court “if, for example, he were to take the stand and say something to open the door to those statements coming in.” So, if Trump were to testify and say something such as “I’ve never said anything bad about Alvin Bragg in my life,” or his attorney said something to that effect, there’s a chance jurors could hear some of the wild commentary, Rendelman says.

Of course, there is one way that Trump’s crass statements could land him in legal hot water—if they were an outright threat. “If something someone says rises to the level of a crime in and of itself, then that could add charges,” Rendelman says.

James Kousouros, whose clients include the rapper Casanova, drew a comparison to the long-criticized practice of prosecutors invoking rappers’ lyrics against them in pursuing criminal cases. Prosecutors often use hip-hop artists’ lyrics during their cases even if there’s no direct connection to the case—which is “incredibly prejudicial.” When lyrics might relate to actual crimes charged, it becomes a “closer question.”  If remarks from lyrics were to come in, “there’s got to be an evidentiary, relevant connection to the material.”

So, while wild commentary from Trump that’s not related to the case almost certainly won’t make it into possible trial proceedings, comments about the case itself could possibly, if they were evidentiary in some way.

That said, “whether or not they’re admitted at trial, given the number of followers, given the degree of media attention that is paid to everything that happens with respect to Trump, the public is aware, and the public is your jury,” Kousouros said.  “Certainly you can hurt yourself, or let me also say, help yourself, by making public comments.

“Our country is so divided. I hate to say it, but his supporters probably would applaud that type of rhetoric, whereas his detractors would see it for what it is,” Kousouros said of jurors’ possible reactions to inflammatory rhetoric. “I just don’t know that you’re changing anybody’s mind.”

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