"Nobody wants to be led away in handcuffs — even a former president who likes to lead his followers with claims of martyrdom," attorney Dave Aronberg tells PEOPLE
While Donald Trump is well known for boasting about his legal troubles being little more than "witch hunts," insiders say that privately, the former president is more than a little uneasy.
"Nobody wants to be led away in handcuffs — even a former president who likes to lead his followers with claims of martyrdom," Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County and former member of the Florida state Senate, tells PEOPLE.
Trump, 76, is currently in limbo, awaiting a possible indictment over an alleged hush money payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016. In recent days, he's blasted the Manhattan district attorney's investigation into the payment as being politically motivated and called on his supporters to "protest" if he is indicted.
Aronberg notes that the former president "has been able to avoid criminal consequences in the past," making the threat of actual charges "uncharted territory for Trump."
Still, he's at least attempting to use his ongoing legal woes as fuel for his most ardent supporters. "It's the rocket fuel that powers their spaceships," Aronberg says. The attorney believes that Trump wants to use the possibility of an indictment both to "raise money and get his supporters in the streets to intimidate prosecutors."
Another political source familiar with Trump's thinking agrees, telling PEOPLE that the former president has been trying to scare off prosecutors with threats of a protest in the same vein as the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
"Donald is trying to save [himself] by scaring off the prosecution," that source posits. "He is not comfortable or confident about the Stormy Daniels case. He is very worried."
And while the source notes that Trump is somewhat reassured by allies who tell him the investigations are little more than a political ploy, he's allegedly still nervous. "What you see is a lot of false bravado," the source says.
Responding to the sources' allegations, Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung tells PEOPLE, "Anyone who talks about President Trump's mood has no idea what they're talking about and are simply lying to make it seem like they know what's going on. In fact, they are on the outside looking in, quite sad."
"This is the new normal — President Trump has been battle-tested," Cheung says. "This operation has been fine-tuned since 2016. Dealing with these types of news cycles, you learn to get good at it. We have a full-spectrum response operation on the campaign that can deal with anything that comes our way."
According to legal experts, Trump has reason to worry as the subject of several lawsuits and investigations.
Aronberg says that — of the four high-profile cases against Trump — the alleged hush money investigation (and any charges that may stem from it) is the weakest.
"The strongest case is about Trump's handling of the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago," Aronberg says, alluding to the FBI search of the former president's home in August, which yielded the discovery of 11 sets of classified documents, including some marked "top secret" that are only meant to be viewed at secure government facilities.
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Then there is the Georgia case, in which a special grand jury in Fulton County is examining Trump's efforts to overturn the state's 2020 election results.
"The Fulton County case has him on tape in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia," Aronberg says. "That is strong."
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