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Former President Donald Trump is expected to be indicted soon by a New York grand jury for his role in a hush money payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election.
In a post on social media over the weekend, Trump said he expected to be arrested on Tuesday and called on his supporters to protest — stirring security concerns around the courthouse in lower Manhattan. Politico reported that an indictment could come as early as late Monday.
If Trump were to be indicted, he would be the first former U.S. president ever to be charged with a crime. And as he's running for the White House again in 2024, he would also be the first major candidate to be indicted during a presidential race.
Here’s everything we know about the unprecedented case.
The latest on the hush money probe
For nearly five years, New York prosecutors have been investigating the $130,000 payment made weeks before the 2016 presidential election by Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen to Daniels, who said she'd had an affair with Trump nearly 10 years earlier. Trump denies the allegation. (The New York Times has much more on their alleged tryst, which is said to have begun with a chance encounter at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006.)
Earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg invited Trump himself to testify before the grand jury that was hearing evidence — a move suggesting an indictment was imminent. Under New York law, potential targets of investigations are given the chance to appear before the grand jury, though they rarely do so. An attorney for Trump said he would not appear, and that his legal team had recently met privately with prosecutors to make their case against an indictment.
Last week Daniels met with prosecutors, while Cohen testified twice before the grand jury. And Yahoo News reported over the weekend that Bragg’s office has been engaged in delicate negotiations with the Secret Service over how to handle an indictment and arrest of the former president.
In the social media post in which Trump claimed he would be arrested, he urged his supporters, "Protest, take our nation back!" The open call immediately triggered security concerns and fears of a violent mob like the one that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Monday that the city is "monitoring comments on social media" and preparing for Trump's possible indictment and arrest. NYPD officers were seen earlier in the day installing barricades and surveillance cameras outside Manhattan Criminal Court.
How we got here
Cohen said he was directed by Trump to pay Daniels $130,000 in October 2016, and that he was reimbursed by the president after Trump took office.
According to Cohen, the Trump Organization paid him $420,000 to reimburse him for the payment and to cover bonuses and other supposed expenses. The company classified those payments internally as legal expenses.
The district attorney’s office has been probing whether the payment to Daniels amounted to an illegal campaign contribution, coming just days before voters headed to the polls to decide that year’s presidential election.
Under New York law, falsifying business records can be considered a misdemeanor — or a felony if it is done in connection with a more serious crime. It’s unclear whether the district attorney has uncovered evidence that would result in felony charges.
In 2018, Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison for orchestrating payments to Daniels and Karen McDougal — a former Playboy model who also said she'd had an affair with Trump — as well as for lying to Congress.
The chances of a conviction
If Bragg moves forward with an indictment, legal experts say it's an indication that he believes there’s a good chance of convicting Trump.
“If you're gonna drag somebody through this, you think there's a likelihood of conviction,” Richard Serafini, a former senior prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, told Yahoo News. “I would tend to think that certainly applies in a case like this, with a former president. So my guess is that if they're going to indict, they have a feeling of relative confidence that they can sustain the indictment with a conviction.”
One major hurdle in a potential case against Trump is that Cohen, Bragg’s star witness, is a convicted liar with a documented vendetta.
“The issue with him is credibility and honesty,” Robert Sanders, a senior lecturer at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice at the University of New Haven and a former federal criminal prosecutor, told Yahoo News. “He's already been convicted of being a perjurer. He's lied in the past in legal proceedings, and he has a singular focus on Trump. That's something that the jury, any jury, is going to have to take into consideration. And the issue is whether they think he's honest enough at the time he testifies before them to accept his version of the facts over what the defense and Trump's lawyers will try to present.”
“Anytime you're using someone, you know, who is a convicted felon, that's problematic for the government,” Serafini said. “Prosecutors like to have corroboration of what the individual is saying. And so we'll see what New York has in terms of corroboration.”
And as the Times pointed out, any conviction will likely hinge on “a legal theory that has not been assessed in New York courts, raising the possibility that a judge could throw out or limit the charges.”
What Cohen is saying
Arriving for his closed-door testimony at the Manhattan district attorney's office last week, Cohen said he was “a little twisted, to be honest, inside.”
But Cohen, who served for more than a decade as Trump’s lawyer and fixer before his 2018 conviction, dismissed the idea that he is out to get his former boss.
“This is not revenge," he said. "This is all about accountability. He needs to be held accountable for his dirty deeds.”
In an appearance on CNN last Thursday, Cohen said, “I know it sounds hokey, but my goal is to ensure truth comes out, and that truth to power is told.”
He declined to discuss details of his testimony to the grand jury but said, “I’m prepared to tell you they have a tremendous amount of information.”
What Trump is saying
The former president and his attorneys have tried to paint him as the victim of “extortion,” and Bragg as a political operative, while refusing to cooperate with the investigation.
In a series of recent posts on Truth Social, his social media platform, the former president denied having an affair with Daniels, insulted her appearance and likened the DA’s investigation to the Russia and Ukraine inquiries that hung over his presidency.
“It is a weaponization of our judicial system,” he said on March 9.
On Thursday, following Cohen’s testimony, Trump took aim at his former fixer. “Does anybody believe that SleazeBag disbarred lawyer Michael Cohen went before a Grand Jury yesterday, and did little but talk about it today? You’re not allowed to do that,” he wrote. “Cohen has no credibility at any level - A Total Loser!”
On Saturday, Trump made his assertion that his arrest would happen Tuesday.
What his supporters in Congress are saying
During a press conference at a GOP retreat in Orlando on Sunday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy urged calm ahead of Trump’s possible indictment and arrest.
“I don’t think people should protest this, no,” he told reporters. “And I think President Trump, if you talk to him, he doesn’t believe that, either.”
“Nobody should harm one another," McCarthy said. "We want calmness out there."
But during the same news conference, the House speaker gave a full-throated defense of Trump and dismissed Bragg’s investigation as politically motivated.
“Lawyer after lawyer will tell you this is the weakest case out there, trying to make a misdemeanor a felony,” McCarthy said.
“The last thing we want … is somebody putting their thumb on the scale [of justice] simply because they don’t agree with somebody else’s political view,” he added. “That is what’s wrong, and that’s what infuriates people. And this will not hold up in court.”
On Monday, the Republican chairmen of three House committees sent a letter demanding that Bragg turn over communications, documents and testimony stemming from his probe of Trump.
They also accused Bragg of an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.”
What about the other cases against Trump?
The possible indictment in New York is not the only one the former president is facing.
In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether Trump interfered in the 2020 election. A special grand jury report that was partially unsealed last month stated that a majority of the panel believed perjury may have been committed by one or more witnesses who testified before it.
Yahoo News reported that Georgia prosecutors could bring charges against Trump and his associates within the next few months, possibly by May.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland is scrutinizing Trump’s role in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to overturn the election results, as well as his handling of classified documents that were uncovered at his Mar-a-Lago estate last year and the possible obstruction of efforts to retrieve them.
Legal experts believe that the New York case is the weakest of the four, and that even if Trump is convicted, he would not likely face prison time.
Any indictment issued by the Manhattan DA would be followed by an arrest of Trump, who has residences in Palm Beach, Fla., Bedminster, N.J., and New York City.
According to the New York Times, it may take several days for him to appear at the courthouse. Prosecutors “are expected to contact the former president’s defense lawyers to negotiate his surrender, a common practice in white-collar investigations when prosecutors have been in touch with defense attorneys.”
Although Trump’s lawyers had been informed that an indictment could come as early as Tuesday, charges are more likely to be filed later in the week, Yahoo News reported Saturday.
The chief question for Bragg at the moment is how to work out procedures for an extraordinary and unprecedented scenario: how to arrest, fingerprint and — per standard procedure — handcuff a defendant who happens to be a former president and is protected by Secret Service agents.
Prosecutors are continuing to negotiate with the Secret Service and other federal and local law enforcement agencies, including the NYPD, over how to handle Trump’s arrest amid heightened security concerns.
Under standard procedures, once indicted, a defendant like Trump would be escorted into the New York City courthouse in lower Manhattan and taken to a processing room, where he would be briefly put in a jail cell, booked, fingerprinted, photographed for a mug shot and handcuffed. He would then be escorted via elevator to an upper floor, where he would be walked in handcuffs into a courtroom for his arraignment in full view of the media — the equivalent of a “perp walk.”
But Trump is not the standard defendant. By law, he is protected at all times by the Secret Service. Prosecutors are still discussing whether he should be allowed to have Secret Service agents, rather than court security officers, escort him into the courtroom without handcuffs, a source told Yahoo News.
And officials are also trying to map out a multitude of security issues, including fears that a “nut job” inside the public courtroom could seek to disrupt the proceedings, the source said.