If Trump’s conviction lands him in prison, the Secret Service will go there too

With the unprecedented sentencing of Donald J. Trump on Thursday, what has long been a distant and abstract concept may be moving closer to a stunning reality: a former president of the United States behind bars.

But it wouldn’t happen quickly.

A Manhattan jury convicted Mr. Trump of 34 counts of first-degree falsifying business records, a crime that under New York state law carries a penalty of probation to four years in prison.

But Mr. Trump is no ordinary defendant. And although most experts say a prison sentence is unlikely, the judge in the case, Juan M. Merchan, has signaled that he takes white-collar crime seriously. The judge set sentencing for July 11.

If Judge Merchan imposes a sentence that sends the former president behind bars — what’s called a custodial sentence — Mr. Trump would be no ordinary prisoner.

Indeed, the US Secret Service is required by law to protect former presidents 24 hours a day, meaning its agents would have to protect Mr Trump in a prison if he was sentenced to serve time.

Even before the trial’s opening statements, the Secret Service to some extent anticipated the extraordinary possibility of a former president’s incarceration. Days before the trial began in April, prosecutors asked Judge Merchan to remind Mr. Trump that attacks on witnesses and jurors could land him in jail before a verdict is even reached.

Shortly afterward, officials from federal, state and city agencies had an impromptu meeting about how to handle the situation, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

That behind-the-scenes conversation — involving Secret Service officials and other law enforcement agencies — focused solely on how to move and protect Mr. Trump if the judge ordered him briefly jailed for contempt in a courthouse holding cell before or during the trial, the sources said.

The much bigger challenge — how to safely incarcerate a former president if he were to be sentenced to prison — has yet to be directly addressed, according to interviews with a dozen current and former city, state and federal officials.

This is due, at least in part, to the fact that a series of drawn-out, hard-fought appeals, perhaps all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, would be almost a certainty. That would most likely delay Mr. Trump serving time for months or longer, said several people who, like other experts, suggested that a prison sentence is unlikely.

Judge Merchan, whom Mr. Trump has continually called “biased” and “corrupt,” and may well decide to sentence Mr. Trump to probation rather than prison.

That would raise the bizarre possibility that the former — and perhaps future — commander in chief would regularly report to an official in the city’s probation department.

Mr. Trump is expected to follow the probation officer’s instructions and answer questions about his work and personal life until the probation period ends. He would also be prohibited from associating with unsavory people, and if he committed further crimes he could be immediately imprisoned.

Incarceration would present a far greater challenge, especially because Mr. Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president. “Obviously, this is uncharted territory,” said Martin F. Horn, who has worked at the highest levels of state prison agencies in New York and Pennsylvania and served as commissioner of Corrections and Probation of the New York City. “Certainly no state prison system has faced this problem before, and no federal prison has had to either.” »

Steven Cheung, the communications director for Mr. Trump’s campaign, said the charges against the former president were “so spurious and so weak” that other prosecutors had declined to file them, and called them a “hunt to unprecedented partisan witches.”

“The fact that Democratic fever dreams of incarcerating the Republican Party candidate have reached this level reveals their Stalinist roots and shows their complete contempt for American democracy,” he said.

Protecting Mr. Trump, in a prison setting, would involve keeping him separated from other inmates, as well as controlling his food and other personal items, officials said. If he were to be imprisoned, a number of officers would work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, rotating in and out of the facility, several officials said. If drugs are strictly prohibited in prisons, officers would still most likely be armed.

Previous prison officials have said several New York state and city prisons have been closed or partially closed, leaving large parts of their facilities empty. One of these buildings could be used to incarcerate the former president and house his Secret Service protection agents.

Anthony Guglielmi, the Secret Service spokesman in Washington, declined in a statement to discuss specific “protective operations.” But he stressed that federal law requires Secret Service agents to protect former presidents, adding that they use cutting-edge technology, intelligence and tactics to do so.

Thomas J. Mailey, a spokesman for the New York State Corrections Agency, said his department could not speculate on how it would treat a person who has not yet been sentenced, but that it has a system “for assessing and providing medical care to individuals.” health care”, mental health and safety. Frank Dwyer, a spokesman for the New York City Prisons Agency, recently said that “the department will find appropriate housing” for the former president.

Although each count carries a sentence of up to four years in prison, Judge Merchan would most likely order that all sentences be concurrent, meaning Mr. Trump would serve prison time concurrently for each of the counts. Under normal circumstances, any sentence of a year or less would typically be served on New York’s notorious Rikers Island, home to the Department of Correction’s seven prisons. (This is where Mr. Trump’s former chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, 76, is serving his second five-month sentence for perjury.)

Any sentence longer than a year would typically be served in one of 44 prisons operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

What if Mr. Trump is elected president in November? He could not pardon himself because the prosecution was brought by the State of New York and not the federal government. But it’s clear what would happen if he was sentenced to prison and the courts upheld his conviction while he was in office.

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