Donald Trump’s indictment is ‘going to turn off a lot of voters,’ attorney says

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Akerman joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Donald Trump’s indictment and how it will be received by voters, the Republican party, and the economy.

Video transcript

- Trump's indictment marks the first time a president has faced criminal charges. Joining us now is Nick Akerman, who is the former assistant US attorney general for the Southern District of New York. Now, thank you so much for joining us here today. Just to kind of put more context around this and where the proceedings go on from here what is the next step to the entirety of this, as our own Rick Newman was starting to lay out there?

NICK AKERMAN: Well, the next step is actually the arraignment, where Donald Trump has to go down to the courthouse. It looks like it's going to be Tuesday. He'll be booked, which means he'll be fingerprinted, photographed, and then taken before a judge. He will either have the indictment read at that time or he can waive the reading of the indictment.

And then he will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty. Very rarely do defendants go in and plead guilty. So he'll plead not guilty. A bail will be set. I think in this case, he's going to be released on his own recognizance.

And then it goes from there into discovery. The DA will be providing its evidence and documents to Trump's lawyers. And there will be all of these pretrial motions that will, ultimately, lead up to a jury trial on the charges, which we do not know what they are at this point. But that is a broad brush what's going to happen.

- Indeed. The indictment is still sealed at the moment. We don't have the specifics of the charges. But based on some of the investigations and what we know that the lawmakers have been looking into here, what are the most likely charges that perhaps have the biggest, the most strength here?

NICK AKERMAN: Well, I think the one charge we all know about are the hush money payments relating to Stormy Daniels and the whole scheme involving Karen McDougal and the idea of catching and kill any bad publicity that might come out before the 2016 election. However, we also know that the state's attorney general's office brought civil complaint against Donald Trump for falsifying his financial statements every year, for bank fraud, for insurance fraud, for all kinds of other-- tax fraud. And the question is whether any of those items will wind up being charged in this indictment.

We do know that Donald Trump asserted his fifth amendment privilege some 450 times in response to questions asked of him in a deposition in this case, which means that he basically would not testify because a truthful answer would tend to incriminate him. The question as to those 450 potential crimes is whether or not there's enough evidence of Donald Trump's intent and knowledge to put those into a criminal indictment such that they can be joined with other counts relating to the hush money payments, all of which go to the central theme of falsifying records in the Trump organization.

- And so what this comes down to in the proceedings going forward from here as well is whether Trump would actually face any jail time for the criminal charges that have been levied. Is that even likely here?

NICK AKERMAN: Well, he has to be convicted, obviously. I think the case, at least as far as what we know publicly, is a pretty good case. And then the question goes to sentencing. That's a whole other process.

And I think it just all depends on the charges and what the evidence is that comes out during the trial. But there's no reason why he wouldn't be treated any differently than any other defendant in the same circumstances, which could ultimately mean jail time.

- And, Nick, we are in unprecedented territory. And you say perhaps we wouldn't be if Nixon had been held accountable for his crimes. But, I mean, what are people are wondering in terms of how this could affect-- I mean, obviously Trump can still run for president. I believe even if convicted or indicted, he can still run. But constitutionally, what does that mean for his campaigning?

NICK AKERMAN: Well, first of all, the only qualifications to be president of the United States are set forth in the constitution. You have to be 35 years old and you have to be born in the United States. Other than that, there are no other qualifications spelled out there.

However, I just don't see how this indictment-- and there's going to be maybe-- you know there's going to be a Georgia indictment probably before the end of April. There's also a good chance of indictments on his obstruction of the classified document information, as well as the January 6 investigation. There's no way that the Republican Party-- that is, the representatives and the senators and governors running for re-election in 2024-- are going to want to have the head of their party be under indictment in various jurisdictions.

It just doesn't do anything to increase their base or increase their vote. Politics is about bringing more people in, making a bigger tent, trying to mobilize other voters. This is just going to turn off a lot of voters in various states and suburban women, et cetera. I mean, this is not a resume builder for somebody who's planning to run for president.

- Well, you could say that about many other steps along the way in terms of the timeline of either Trump's administration, even his running up to becoming president from 2016 to 2020 and even thereafter in his attempt to run for re-election. And so, all that considered, there's been nothing to stop the party from endorsing him before. But what's different about this time is the fact that you have a midterm election, a previous general election, and even runoffs that have gone the other direction against some of the candidates that he's backed in the past as well.

NICK AKERMAN: Well, that's correct. And, look, what people don't realize is that once you're under indictment, and then to be under indictment multiple times, you've got to spend a great deal of your time working with your lawyers. You have to appear in court for various hearings. This is going to take up a huge amount of time.

And if you're running for office and you're a Republican, the last thing you want to have happen is every time you show up for a town meeting or for a campaign event, the first question is going to be, how can you run on a ticket with somebody who's been charged with multiple crimes? In addition, you have this other bombshell that's waiting to explode the end of April, which is a civil case against Donald Trump, essentially for rape. And the judge, thus far, has made rulings which has made this a pretty compelling and almost overwhelming case in which Donald Trump will have no choice but to take the witness stand in his defense.

And there are going to be three women essentially testifying that-- one who's going to say she's raped and the others who are going to say that they were sexually assaulted. And there could be a finding in may that Donald Trump is a rapist. Again, not a good look for somebody running for president.

- Yeah, I mean, well, of course, there was the settled out of court lawsuit for his discriminatory actions, even as an owner of residential properties, in New York, too. So all of those things considered, within this case specifically of business fraud, what does that mean related to the other businesses that he is entangled with or runs in some facet or the other? Largely a lot of people might be looking at ticker symbol DWAC today, given the Digital World Acquisition Corp's annexation to Truth Social, which is a Trump social media property.

NICK AKERMAN: Well, look, it's going to have an impact on all of these companies that Trump controls because what banks are going to want to loan money to these companies? I mean, that's the big problem. This particular count or whatever accounts there are and false business documents is pretty much standard fare for the district attorney's office. This is a crime that they bring pretty regularly.

And it's going to have a wide-ranging impact on the company's ability to do business. Don't forget, the company itself has already been convicted in state court in New York of criminal violations. So it's not inconceivable that now that you're bringing in individuals from the company that Donald Trump won't be convicted. You've got the chief financial officer serving time now at Rikers Island. Michael Cohen, who is going to be one of the key witnesses in this case, has already served a year in prison. So it's not a good look for Donald Trump or for his corporation.

- We'll certainly be keeping a close eye on that. We do appreciate you joining us with your insights. Nick Akerman there, former assistant US attorney for the Southern District of New York, thank you so much.