Trump indicted in alleged hush-money scheme, becoming first former U.S. president in history to be prosecuted
Former President Trump was indicted Thursday in New York City on charges related to an alleged hush-money payment made to a porn actor in the final days of the 2016 campaign, marking the first time in history that a former U.S. president has been criminally prosecuted.
The unprecedented indictment, confirmed Thursday by Trump's attorneys, comes as Trump is facing separate investigations into his alleged involvement in 2020 election interference by his supporters and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, along with his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
"He did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in Court," Trump's lawyers Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina said in a statement.
Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg's office said Thursday night that it had reached out to Trump's attorneys to coordinate his surrender. Multiple outlets reported that Tacopina said Trump's arraignment is likely to occur early next week.
The indictment is sealed and the exact charges a New York grand jury voted to bring against Trump are still unknown. They are expected to be related to a $130,000 payment made by his former attorney Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels, money allegedly paid to prevent the actor from publicly saying she had an affair with Trump. The former president has been accused of hiding his reimbursement of Cohen by funneling it through his business and recording the payments as legal services.
Trump is a declared candidate for president in 2024, and his Republican allies have sought to portray Bragg's work as politically motivated, with the former president calling on his supporters in a recent social media post to protest and "take our nation back." Over the last year, Bragg revived the investigation, which was initiated in 2018 but was repeatedly placed on the back burner.
There’s no set timetable for the indictment to be made public. Bragg could ask a judge to unseal it, Trump could choose to disclose the details, or it could be revealed when Trump first appears in court for arraignment. High-profile cases of this type typically require a long time to prepare, and it is likely to take months before the case comes before a jury.
Trump reacted to the news of the indictment in familiar fashion, calling it “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” as well as a “Witch-Hunt” fueled by “Radical Left Democrats.”
“The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable — indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference," he said in a statement.
His statement cited a laundry list of grievances over past investigations, including his two impeachment trials and last year’s FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate for classified documents. The former president criticized Bragg for investigating him rather than focusing on crime in New York and claimed the indictment would strengthen him and his movement.
“I believe this Witch-Hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” he said.
Trump's campaign quickly released a fundraising appeal referencing the indictment. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), who prosecuted Trump's first impeachment in the Senate, also asked donors to contribute to his U.S. Senate campaign following the news.
In a post on the ex-president's Truth Social platform, Trump's son Eric Trump called the indictment "third world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year."
Trump, who declined an invitation to testify before the grand jury, has denied an affair with Daniels and alleged that she demanded cash because of his vulnerability as a presidential candidate. This month, the grand jury heard from Cohen, who in 2018 pleaded guilty to several charges including federal campaign finance crimes involving the hush-money payout. Federal prosecutors concluded the payment, which came shortly after Trump faced criticism, was an improper donation to Trump’s campaign.
Cohen said in a statement Thursday that he took "solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former President."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to challenge Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, said in a statement that his state would not assist with any extradition request, a move that would violate the Constitution's Article IV extradition clause. Trump’s lawyers have previously said the former president would surrender if he was indicted. He is expected to be quietly brought in by the Secret Service to avoid a public "perp walk."
Trump has made repeated pleas for supporters to protest on Truth Social, predicting “potential death & destruction” that “could be catastrophic for our Country” if he is charged with a crime. Bragg received a written death threat in an envelope full of white powder last week. The powder turned out to be harmless, authorities said.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) urged people not to protest, but directed relevant congressional committees to determine "if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions."
The Republican chairmen of the House committees on the Judiciary, on House Administration, and on Oversight and Accountability demanded in a joint letter this month that Bragg testify before Congress about his investigation, which they called "an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority." They also ordered Bragg to turn over material from his investigation, an unusual demand by lawmakers in an ongoing criminal probe.
Bragg has responded with letters refusing their demands, noting that Congress has no jurisdiction over a New York state criminal proceeding and had no right to involve itself in ongoing litigation.
Before the indictment was announced, Tacopina called on the New York City Department of Investigation, the city’s inspector general, to investigate what he called the “weaponization” of the district attorney’s office.
Law enforcement in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C., have prepared for the protests Trump and his allies encouraged, though it is unclear how large they may be. Bike-rack fencing was placed around the U.S. Capitol, and the New York Police Department erected steel barricades outside the Manhattan criminal courthouse. Pro- and anti-Trump rallies are planned in California and across the country Friday and Saturday.
There are three other criminal investigations involving Trump.
Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis in Atlanta is weighing potential indictments stemming from Trump’s attempts to change Georgia election results in the weeks after the 2020 election. In February, portions of the long-awaited Georgia special grand jury report were released, though the recommended charges and potential targets remain under wraps.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed in November by U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, is overseeing two investigations: one to determine whether Trump intentionally held on to classified information after leaving office and didn’t comply with a subpoena to return the documents, and another scrutinizing Trump's actions to remain in office after losing the presidential election.
Grand juries have convened in both inquiries and are hearing from witnesses. Potential indictments from the special counsel investigations aren't likely to occur for months.
Despite being a matter of law, the indictment has inevitably been viewed through a political lens. Response to the indictment from politicians was immediate, coming before Trump acknowledged the news publicly.
Democrats largely urged people to withhold judgment until the trial is complete.
"If the grand jury found probable cause to believe Donald J. Trump committed a crime, and the district attorney believes it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, this step, while unprecedented, is also deeply and fundamentally necessary to preserve the rule of law,” Schiff said.
Without knowing the charges or the evidence that will be brought in trial, Republican politicians echoed the president in characterizing the indictment as a political attack.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had a single-word reaction: ”Outrageous.”
McCarthy said on Twitter that "Alvin Bragg has irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our Presidential election."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.