Donald Trump will be the first former US president to face criminal charges after a grand jury in New York has voted to indict him on charges related to hush money payments to an adult film star.
Here is what Trump’s indictment means.
On Thursday the New York Times first reported that the grand jury had voted to indict Trump, citing four people with knowledge of the matter.
The indictment was confirmed shortly later Thursday by Joe Tacopina, a lawyer for Trump, and other sources.
The sealed felony indictment is likely to be unsealed in the next few days. At this point the specific charges were not immediately made public.
The indictment relates to a hush-money payment made on his behalf to the adult film maker and actor Stormy Daniels in 2016, shortly before election day as Trump ran for president.
Trump’s attorney at that time, Michael Cohen, orchestrated the payment to buy Daniels’ silence over an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
Why was Trump indicted?
Cohen – now an outspoken Trump foe who testified before the grand jury in the Manhattan case – made the $130,000 payment to Daniels in October 2016. When Trump was president, he reimbursed Cohen with monthly $35,000 checks from his personal account.
In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges related to the hush money payment. Court documents in Cohen’s federal case said the Trump Organization falsely described payments as legal expenses, citing a legal retainer that did not exist.
In the Manhattan case, prosecutors effectively maintain that Trump’s handling of the reimbursement violated state law.
What have Trump and his lawyers said?
Trump denies wrongdoing in relation to every allegation against him, whether accusations of criminal activity or claims for civil damages. He has repeatedly decried investigations as political witch hunts. He denies an affair with Daniels but has admitted paying Cohen, claiming to be a victim of extortion.
His legal team met Manhattan prosecutors to argue he should not be indicted. An attorney for Trump, Susan Necheles, contended that he would have made payments to Daniels regardless of his presidential campaign.
What happens next?
Trump will be arraigned, where he will enter a plea, and various dates for case proceedings will be set. His attorneys are all but guaranteed to fight the charges tooth-and-nail in the pre-trial stages, submitting motions in efforts to exclude evidence and testimony they believe will harm his defense, as is normal in criminal cases.
This, in turn, will result in re-setting of deadlines and scheduling events, making a definitive trial date elusive until shortly before proceedings kick off. It’s possible that years elapse between Trump’s indictment and any possible trial.
What other criminal inquiries is Trump facing?
The Department of Justice is investigating Trump’s attempted election subversion and his incitement of the January 6 attack on Congress.
In a criminal investigation of Trump’s retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, federal prosecutors are looking at whether Trump willfully retained national security information and obstructed justice.
Trump is also under investigation in Georgia for alleged attempted election inference. The Fulton county prosecutor, Fani Willis, requested a grand jury. It recommended indictments, against whom is not known.
Trump also faces a defamation trial arising from an allegation of rape made by the writer E Jean Carroll, an allegation Trump denies.
What does Trump’s indictment mean for 2024?
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist in New York City, said diehard Trump supporters won’t particularly care.
“With the people that love him most, it means nothing,” Sheinkopf said. “With the rebels who are against the government on the right, it won’t matter. With his core constituency it won’t matter at all. They will see this as an attack on their values because Trump represents their values.”
The indictment will play into Trump’s nationalist dog-whistling, that white Americans are victimized, Sheinkopf said.
“He will use this … to make the case that these people in Manhattan, whoever ‘these people’ are, are interfering with his ability to ‘make America great again’ and to ‘take the country back’.”
Trump has accused Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, who is Black, of being racist.
Sheinkopf also said the indictment could energize Trump supporters and thereby “position him beyond Ron DeSantis temporarily”. The Florida governor is clearly the closest challenger to Trump, though he has not declared a run.
But Sheinkopf said most Republicans would not back a candidate charged with a crime.
“The majority of Republican voters are certainly rational, and they won’t want somebody who’s under indictment in the Oval office,” he said.
“The president, or the candidate, has got to be fully occupied with either being the candidate or the president – and he cant be going to court dates in the middle of all that.”
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