A grand jury has voted to indict Donald Trump in New York, over a hush money payment made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election.
No former US president has ever been criminally indicted. The news is set to shake the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, in which Trump leads most polls.
The indictment has not yet been publicly unsealed, and it could take days for Trump to actually appear in court. Trump will soon be required to appear at an arraignment, where he will enter a plea on the charges.
It is unclear whether or not he will be handcuffed, because of his status, but he will be fingerprinted, photographed and processed for a felony arrest. His legal team is expected to vigorously fight the charges, and a timeline for a potential trial remains unclear.
Top Republicans swiftly denounced the indictment, jumping to Trump’s defense. Congressman Jim Jordan, the Republican chair of the House judiciary committee, sent a single-word tweet in response to the news: “Outrageous.”
Trump also faces legal jeopardy over his election subversion and incitement of the January 6 attack on Congress; his attempts to overturn the 2020 result in Georgia; his retention of classified records; his business dealings; and a defamation suit arising from an allegation of rape by the writer E Jean Carroll, which Trump denies.
Daniels claims an affair with Trump in 2006. Trump denies the affair but has admitted directing his then lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to pay Daniels $130,000 for her silence.
Cohen was also revealed to have arranged for $150,000 to be paid to Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who claimed to have an affair with Trump.
That payment was made by David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper, which squashed the story.
Trump has admitted reimbursing Cohen with payments the Trump Organization logged as legal expenses.
Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 and was president from 2017 to 2021. News of the payment to Daniels broke in January 2018.
Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law, contributing to a three-year prison sentence handed down in December 2018.
Investigations of the Daniels payment have dragged on. Earlier this year, Mark Pomerantz, an experienced New York prosecutor who resigned from Bragg’s team then wrote a book, called the payment a “zombie case” which would not die.
Earlier this month, Cohen testified before the grand jury in the Manhattan hush money case. Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway, former White House aides, reportedly spoke to prosecutors, as did Daniels, Pecker and Jeffrey McConney, senior vice-president and controller of the Trump Organization.
Trump did not testify. He denies wrongdoing, claiming the payments represented extortion.
Earlier this week, a Trump lawyer, Joe Tacopina, told MSNBC Trump had simply taken advice from his lawyer, Cohen, which was “not a crime”. Tacopina also said the payments to Cohen were simply “legal fees”.
Trump’s lawyers are expected to seek to delay the case.
Andrew Weissmann, a former federal prosecutor in New York, said Trump would in all likelihood not head swiftly to court.
Writing for MSNBC, Weissmann said: “Beyond Trump’s notorious abuse of the legal system by throwing sand in the gears to slow things down, a criminal case takes time.”
He added: “There is no end of motions that can be filed to delay a trial, which could easily cause the litigation to be ongoing during the Republican primary season [in 2024] – something a court could also find is reason to delay any trial date.
“Indeed, even in a more quotidian case, having a trial within a year of indictment would be quick.”
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