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Can Ron DeSantis stop Trump’s arrest?

Despite what Trump’s MAGA allies say, the Florida governor likely has little authority to stop the former president’s extradition from their mutual home state. Eric Garcia and Andrew Feinberg write

Friday 31 March 2023 08:58 BST

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis finds himself in a bind: as of right now, he is by far the person with the best possible chance of beating former president Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for president.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, he earned plaudits when he rapidly reopened the state after a brief stint of closures. He has ardently opposed mask and vaccine mandates. His opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and how some education curricula teach about the history of slavery and Black America have further endeared him to conservatives. After barely winning his first race for governor in 2018, he cruised to re-election in 2022 by almost 20 points.

Meanwhile, the former president has now been indicted on criminal charges for his payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep their affair a secret.

On 30 March, the Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Mr Trump on criminal charges over the hush money payments.

Sources confirmed the unprecedented development to The Independent on Thursday afternoon – making Mr Trump the first current or former president to ever face criminal charges in the history of the US.

Mr Trump is reportedly facing more than 30 counts related to business fraud, sources told CNN after the indictment became public.

But the indictment would normally mean that Mr DeSantis would be the heir to the former president’s base in the race to challenge President Joe Biden.

Instead, he’s faced a torrent of criticism from Mr Trump’s acolytes for not supporting the former president. A resident of Florida, the state which Mr DeSantis runs, Mr Trump may need to be extradited from Palm Beach now that he has been indicted.

But – prior to the indictment being handed down – Mr DeSantis has been less than direct about the action he would take. When a reporter asked him about the indictment, he began by saying that liberal billionaire financier George Soros backed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, before he took a swipe at Mr Trump’s alleged affair with Ms Daniels.

“I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just, I can't speak to that,” he said. “But what I can speak to is that if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many years ago to try to use something about porn star hush money payments, you know, that's an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”

Donald Trump talks to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a visit to Canal Point, Florida in 2019 when the pair were allies not opponents (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

“I’ve gotta spend my time on issues that actually matter to people,” he said “I can’t spend my time worrying about things of that nature. So, we’re not gonna be involved in it in any way. “I'm fighting for Floridians and I'm fighting back against Biden.”

That has enraged many Republicans and allies of the former president.

‘Not MAGA’

“Are you kidding me? SAY HIS NAME!”, Liz Harrington, a spokeswoman for the former president said. “What a total fraud he is. He takes a dig at President Trump who is being falsely accused and can’t even say his name. It proves DeSantis is totally fine with a third world nation arresting their number one political opposition. Not MAGA!”

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon also lambasted Mr DeSantis on his War Room podcast.

“You’re better than this,’ he said. “That was a weasel approach and don’t throw that thing in about the porn star. Don’t need to hear it from you. Don’t need to hear it.”

The former president for his part lashed out in response in a lewd homophobic post on his Truth Social platform.

“Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!),” he said. “I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!”

But Mr DeSantis’s words that he won’t take action may be a reflection of how little authority he has to prevent Mr Trump’s extradition.

Mr DeSantis said on 30 March that the state will not cooperate with any request to extradite Mr Trump following the former president’s indictment.

“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” the governor said.

Voluntary surrender

For one, it’s unclear that there will be a need for extradition proceedings in the first place. Prior to the grand jury vote, Mr Trump’s lawyers said that the ex-president would voluntarily surrender to the proper authorities if the panel did vote to indict him.

But even if Mr Trump does refuse to appear and forces a New York judge to issue a warrant for his arrest, there’s not much Mr DeSantis can do to stop it.

Under the US Constitution’s Extradition Clause, each state must deliver to another state any fugitive from justice in cases of "treason, felony or other crime".

Trump supporters gathered outside his Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Moreover, Section 3182 of the US Criminal Code (known as Title 18) states that the “executive authority” of a state where a fugitive is residing is presented with an indictment from another state, he or she shall “cause him to be arrested and secured,” notify the authority demanding the fugitive, and “shall cause the fugitive to be delivered” to agents of the executive making the demand, usually police officers from the state where the fugitive is facing charges.

Puerto Rico v Branstad

A 1987 Supreme Court case, Puerto Rico v Branstad, found that state governors have no discretion to deny an extradition request, and held that federal courts may enforce the return of fugitives when needed.

Florida has also enacted the Uniform Criminal Extradition Act, a model law governing how states handle extradition proceedings, into its’ statutes.

Under that state law, it is Mr DeSantis’ duty to “have arrested and delivered up to the executive authority of any other state of the United States any person charged in that state with treason, felony, or other crime, who has fled from justice and is found” in the Sunshine State.

Mr DeSantis may “investigate” — usually by ordering law enforcement to do so — whether a demand for extradition is valid, but he cannot refuse to enforce a valid extradition request.

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