Former US president Donald Trump claimed on Saturday that his arrest was imminent and issued an extraordinary call for his supporters to protest as a New York grand jury investigates hush money payments to women who alleged sexual encounters with the former US president. Despite no evidence that Manhattan prosecutors have given any official notice to him or his lawyers, Trump declared in a post on his social media platform that he expected to be taken into custody on Tuesday. The message seemed designed to pre-empt a formal announcement from prosecutors and to galvanise outrage from his base of supporters in advance of charges widely seen as coming soon. In Trump’s direct encouragement of protest, and his capital letter demand to “take our nation back” the post evoked in foreboding ways the rhetoric he used before the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. After hearing from the then-president at a Washington rally that morning, his supporters marched to the Capitol and tried to stop the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s White House victory, breaking through doors and windows of the building and leaving officers beaten and bloodied. “Leading Republican candidate & former President of the United States of America will be arrested on Tuesday of next week,” the 76-year-old billionaire said on his Truth Social platform on Saturday, adding: “Protest, take our nation back!” District Attorney Alvin Bragg is thought to be eyeing charges in the hush money investigation and recently offered Trump a chance to testify before the grand jury. Local police are bracing for the public safety ramifications of an unprecedented prosecution of a former American president. An indictment would make Trump the first former US president to be charged with a crime, marking an explosive and unpredictable development in the 2024 White House race – as Trump seeks again to clinch the Republican nomination. Not even a conviction in the hush money case would prevent Trump from running, but an indictment could have major consequences, galvanising his critics but also electrifying his supporters. Prosecutors signal charges likely for Trump in hush money case There has been no public announcement of any time frame for the grand jury’s secret work in the case. At least one additional witness is expected to testify, further indicating that no vote to indict has yet been taken, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorised to publicly discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity. That did not stop Trump from taking to his social media platform to say “illegal leaks” from Bragg’s office indicate that “THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK.” In another post, Trump attacked Biden as “crooked” and urged his followers to “Protest, Protest, Protest!!!” A spokesperson and a lawyer for Trump said his Truth Social post was based on media reports rather than any actual update from, or communication with, prosecutors. The district attorney’s office declined to comment on Saturday. In China, news of a possible Trump indictment skyrocketed to the top of the charts on the Twitter-like Weibo platform at 11.30pm Beijing time. The hashtag “Trump says he’ll be arrested soon” was the 5th most-read topic on Weibo on Saturday night, with more than 59 million views. With the hashtag going viral, there was also an outpouring of support for Trump on Weibo. A slew of Trump-loving Weibo commenters encouraged him to not give up and fight any criminal indictment with all his strength. “Trump, America needs you,” a Weibo commenter wrote. Some Weibo commenters called on his “redneck supporters” to “rally around their king.” Others called Trump their “comrade” – a term commonly used to refer to Chinese officials, including Chinese leader Xi Jinping – and encouraged him to “move forward bravely.” Trump’s detractors did speak up on Weibo too, but they were far outnumbered by his supporters. “I’m looking forward to the old a**hole being arrested and imprisoned,” read one comment. “This lunatic needs to be locked up, or he’ll be spouting nonsense all day long,” another Weibo user wrote. “Donald Trump, don’t back down. America is big enough to be split into two. Do what you need to do, MAGA!” read one comment. “If Trump is arrested, it will signal the corruption of the American spirit,” another comment read. Donald Trump returns to Facebook and YouTube after ban lifted Billionaire and Twitter owner Elon Musk tweeted on Saturday that Trump would be voted into the White House again if he is arrested in New York. “If this happens, Trump will be re-elected in a landslide victory,” Musk tweeted on Saturday. Should Trump be indicted, he would be arrested only if he refused to surrender. Trump’s lawyers have previously said he would follow normal procedure, meaning he would likely agree to surrender at a New York Police Department precinct or directly to Bragg’s office. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy reacted with fury, accusing New York prosecutors of pursuing “political vengeance” against Trump. McCarthy vowed on Twitter to launch a congressional investigation of the matter. Here we go again — an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump. I’m directing relevant committees to immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by… https://t.co/elpbh7LeWn — Kevin McCarthy (@SpeakerMcCarthy) March 18, 2023 But McCarthy’s Democratic predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, denounced Trump’s announcement as “reckless,” saying it would “foment unrest among his supporters.” “He cannot hide from his violations of the law, disrespect for our elections and incitements to violence,” added Pelosi, who was still speaker when Trump was impeached for inciting the January 6 Capitol riot. The indictment of Trump, 76, would be an extraordinary development after years of investigations into his business, political and personal dealings. While Trump may look to denounce the prosecution as a politically motivated effort to derail his 2024 bid for the White House, there is no question that it would function as a campaign trail distraction and give fodder for opponents and critics tired of the legal scandals that have long shadowed him. In addition to the hush money investigation in New York, Trump faces separate criminal investigations in Atlanta and Washington over his efforts to undo the results of the 2020 election. A Justice Department special counsel has also been presenting evidence before a grand jury investigating Trump’s possession of hundreds of classified documents at his Florida estate. It is not clear when those investigations will end or whether they might result in criminal charges, but they will continue regardless of what happens in New York, underscoring the continuing gravity – and broad geographic scope – of the legal challenges confronting the former president. Trump’s post on Saturday echoes one made last summer when he broke the news on Truth Social that the FBI was searching his Florida home as part of an investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents. News of that search sparked a flood of contributions to Trump’s political operation, and on Saturday, Trump sent out a fundraising email to his supporters that said the “MANHATTAN D.A. COULD BE CLOSE TO CHARGING TRUMP.” The grand jury has been hearing from witnesses, including former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen , who says he orchestrated payments in 2016 to two women to silence them about sexual encounters they said they had with Trump a decade earlier. Cohen predicts Trump’s downfall will resemble mobster Capone’s Trump denies the encounters occurred, says he did nothing wrong and has cast the investigation as a “witch hunt” by a Democratic prosecutor bent on sabotaging the Republican’s 2024 campaign. Trump has also labelled Bragg, who is black, a “racist” and has accused the prosecutor of letting crime in the city run amok while he has focused on Trump. New York remains one of the safest cities in the country. Bragg’s office has apparently been examining whether any state laws were broken in connection with the payments or the way Trump’s company compensated Cohen for his work to keep the women’s allegations quiet. Porn actor Stormy Daniels and at least two former Trump aides – one-time political adviser Kellyanne Conway and former spokesperson Hope Hicks – are among witnesses who have met prosecutors in recent weeks. Cohen has said that at Trump’s direction, he arranged payments totalling US$280,000 to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. According to Cohen, the payouts were to buy their silence about Trump, who was then in the thick of his first presidential campaign. Cohen and federal prosecutors said Trump’s company paid him US$420,000 as reimbursement for the US$130,000 payment to Daniels and to cover bonuses and other supposed expenses. On Trump Force One, KFC is on the menu and 45 is still president The company classified those payments internally as legal expenses. The US$150,000 payment to McDougal was made by the publisher of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, which kept her story from coming to light. Federal prosecutors agreed not to prosecute the National Enquirer’s corporate parent in exchange for its cooperation in a campaign finance investigation that led to charges against Cohen in 2018. Prosecutors said the payments to Daniels and McDougal amounted to impermissible, unrecorded gifts to Trump’s election effort. Cohen pleaded guilty, served prison time and was disbarred. Federal prosecutors did not charge Trump with any crime.