In a historic move, a grand jury in New York has indicted former President Donald Trump on criminal charges. This is the first time in American history that an ex-president has faced criminal charges.
The 2020 election loser, Trump is currently running for the Republican nomination for President, but he could face years in prison if convicted.
The charges stem from an investigation into Trump’s alleged payoff to a porn star with whom he had sex shortly after the birth of his youngest child.
Trump’s calls for protests against his long-anticipated indictment in New York have generated mostly muted reactions from supporters, with even some of his most ardent loyalists dismissing the idea that public demonstrations would be a waste of time.
There are few signs that the election loser’s public appeal has inspired followers to assemble for an event like the violent ‘Stop the Steal’ gathering on Jan. 6, 2021.
The ambivalence raises questions about whether Trump, though a leading contender in the 2024 Republican presidential race who retains a devoted following, still has the power to mobilize far-right supporters the way he did more than two years ago, when he incited a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The hundreds of arrests that followed the Capitol riot, not to mention the convictions and long prison sentences, may have dampened the desire for repeat mass unrest.
The grand jury had been hearing evidence about hush money paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, allegedly to keep her from saying she’d had a sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.
Weeks before the 2016 election, Daniels was trying to sell a story of her alleged affair with Trump to the National Enquirer.
However, instead of buying her story, the tabloid’s publisher brokered a deal between Daniels’ lawyer and Trump’s then-attorney, Michael Cohen. In exchange for the story, Cohen paid him $130,000 which he says Trump later reimbursed once he was in the White House.
Cohen got caught. And in 2018, he pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations related to the hush money payment, which prosecutors said counted as an improper donation because it benefited the Trump campaign.
The indictment was announced by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office, which has been leading the investigation.
The indictment has yet to be unsealed, so the charges and specific allegations were not immediately clear, but Bragg and his investigative team were probing whether Trump falsified business records connected to the payments in a way that could constitute a campaign-finance violation and possibly tax fraud.
In statements leading up to this point, New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “No one is above the law, not even the former President of the United States.” The indictment is likely to test whether that assertion is true.
Specific charges have not yet been made public, but the indictment has significant legal, political consequences as charges against Trump may include several counts of tax fraud, as well as allegations campaign finance violations.
A separate case prosecuted by the New York Attorney General recently found Trump’s company guilty in a scheme to avoid paying taxes on millions of dollars in income.
The Manhattan grand jury has been hearing from witnesses including 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.
Daniels’ lawyer, Clark Brewster, issued a statement on the indictment, saying: “The indictment of Donald Trump is no cause for joy. The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected. Now let truth and justice prevail. No one is above the law.”
Daniels and at least two former Trump aides — onetime political adviser Kellyanne Conway and former spokesperson Hope Hicks – are among witnesses who have met with prosecutors in recent weeks.
Trump has long denied any wrongdoing and has called the investigation a “witch hunt.” His lawyers have also argued that he is immune from prosecution as a former president.
Cohen has said that at Trump’s direction, he arranged payments totaling $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 the company paid him $420,000 to reimburse him for the $130,000 payment to Daniels and to cover bonuses and other supposed expenses. The company classified those payments internally as legal expenses.
The $150,000 payment to McDougal was made by the then-publisher of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, which kept her story from coming to light.
The indictment is a major blow to Trump, who has been eyeing a potential comeback in the 2024 presidential election.
Trump was at Mar-a-Lago Thursday afternoon when his lawyers said he had been indicted. How or when he would be brought to court in New York to answer the charges was not immediately clear. But security will be a concern, given that he has a significant Secret Service detail as a former president — a novel issue in a historic case.
Arrest warrants are typically issued automatically when an indictment is filed against a defendant who has not been previously charged in a criminal complaint. In this case, the indictment was filed behind closed doors at the lower Manhattan courthouse after the clerk’s office was closed for the day.
The indictment was filed under seal and will be announced in the coming days.
The indictment is expected to lead to a lengthy and contentious legal battle, with Trump and his supporters likely to fight the charges every step of the way. However, the fact that an ex-president has been indicted on criminal charges is a momentous event that is likely to reverberate throughout the political world for years to come.
Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, said in a statement, “I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former President.”