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.
“This evening we contacted Mr Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan DA’s Office for arraignment on a supreme court indictment, which remains under seal,” said a statement from Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s spokesperson. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”
Trump was expected to appear in court for his arraignment on Tuesday, Trump’s lawyer Susan Necheles said. At that point he would enter a plea on the charges. New York’s police have been told to all report for duty on Friday and be prepared to deal with “unusual disorder”, according to a memo seen by NBC.
It is unclear whether Trump will be handcuffed at his appearance 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.
Trump, who is reportedly facing up to 30 counts of business fraud, attacked Bragg, and Democrats in a statement released shortly after the news broke, claiming the indictment amounted to “political persecution”. “I believe this witch hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” Trump said. “Our movement, and our party – united and strong – will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden.”
Democrats responded to claims of persecution, saying that if Trump broke the law, he should face charges like any American. Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer added: “There should be no outside political influence, intimidation or interference in the case. I encourage both Mr Trump’s critics and supporters to let the process proceed peacefully and according to the law.” California Democrat Adam Schiff said: “The indictment of a former president is unprecedented. But so too is the unlawful conduct in which Trump has been engaged.”
Within hours of the news, Trump’s campaign sent out fundraising pleas to counter what it called “the darkest chapter in American history”. It accused the Democrats of weaponising the justice system to punish a political opponent.
Top Republicans swiftly denounced the indictment, jumping to Trump’s defense. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican speaker of the House, accused Bragg of having “irreparably damaged our country”. “The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account,” McCarthy said on Twitter.
Mike Pence, a potential Trump rival for the Republican presidential nomination, told CNN the indictment sent a “terrible message” to the world about what he called a “two-tiered” US justice system. Pence declined to say whether Trump should drop out of the nomination race if he is convicted – or if that should disqualify him from being the Republican nominee. “I don’t want to talk about hypotheticals,” he said.
Republican senator Lindsey Graham, a longtime Trump ally, called it a “shocking and dangerous day for the rule of law in America” and “one of the most irresponsible decisions in American history by any prosecutor”. Graham said it would end with Trump winning in court and at the ballot box.
Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, called the indictment “un-American” and claimed the legal system was being weaponized. He said Florida would not assist with any extradition requests regarding the case. Trump was in Florida when the news broke and it is thought the announcement took his team by surprise.
Stormy Daniels celebrated news of the indictment, tweeting: “Thank you to everyone for your support and love! I have so many messages coming in that I can’t respond … also don’t want to spill my champagne.”
Michael Cohen, Trump’s one-time lawyer and fixer, told CNN: “This is his [Trump’s] biggest fear, that he will be mug-shotted, that he will have an F [for felon] next to his name. This is not what Trump imagined for himself.”
Thursday’s indictment is not the only legal woe for Trump. He also faces 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 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.
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