A grand jury in New York has voted to indict Donald Trump on a felony charge related to hush money payments made to silence claims of an alleged sexual affair, in a historic and highly consequential move against a former U.S. president.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg confirmed multiple media reports Thursday evening, saying in a brief statement his office was in contact with Trump’s attorney “to coordinate his surrender.”
The indictment remains under seal, meaning the specific charge Trump faces remains unknown. A date has yet to be set for Trump to be arraigned, but is expected in the coming days.
The development is certain to reshape Trump’s re-election bid and the overall race for president in 2024, and Trump has vowed to stay in the race regardless of whether he is indicted. Up until now, he has been the presumptive frontrunner in the race against President Joe Biden.
Death threat, powder sent to Manhattan DA weighing potential Trump indictment
“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” Trump said in a statement calling himself “a completely innocent person.”
Lawyer Joe Tacopina, who is representing Trump in the case, said in a statement: “He did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in court.”
Bragg has been investigating Trump’s role in payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed they had affairs with Trump a decade ago. The grand jury was hearing from witnesses until early this week, and prosecutors have met with Daniels and at least two Trump aides recently.
Trump claimed on March 18 that his arrest was imminent, and issued an extraordinary call for his supporters to protest.
The development prompted police in New York to set up barricades outside a courthouse in anticipation of unrest. Trump was never indicted last week, but raised more than US$1.5M for his 2024 presidential campaign off the speculation.
Trump predicts arrest, pushes supporters to protest
One of the chief witnesses for the prosecution, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, says he orchestrated payments in 2016 to Daniels and McDougal to silence them about their claims of sexual encounters they said they had with Trump years before he entered politics.
Trump denies the encounters occurred, says he did nothing wrong and has called the investigation a “witch hunt” by a Democratic prosecutor bent on sabotaging his 2024 presidential campaign.
Cohen has said that at Trump’s direction, he arranged payments totalling $280,000 to Daniels and McDougal. According to Cohen, the payouts were meant to buy their silence about Trump, who was then in the thick of his first run for the White House.
Attorney for Donald Trump appears before grand jury investigating former president
Cohen and federal prosecutors said Trump’s company paid him $420,000 as reimbursement for the $130,000 payment to Daniels and to cover bonuses and other supposed expenses. The company classified those payments internally as legal expenses. The $150,000 payment to McDougal was made by the then-publisher of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, which kept her story from coming to light.
Cohen pleaded guilty, served prison time and was disbarred. Federal prosecutors never charged Trump with any crime.
Trump took a defiant stance at a rally Saturday in Waco, Texas, disparaging the prosecutors investigating him and predicting his vindication as he rallied supporters in a city made famous by deadly resistance against law enforcement.
With a hand over his heart, Trump stood at attention when his rally opened with a song called Justice for All performed by a choir of people imprisoned for their roles in the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol.
Some footage from the Capitol attack was shown on big screens displayed at the rally site as the choir sang the national anthem and a recording played of Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Trump supporters flock to Waco on anniversary of deadly standoff: ‘I’m still backing him’
The display opened Trump’s first rally of his 2024 Republican presidential campaign. He then launched into a speech brimming with resentments and framed the probes, including the New York grand jury investigation, as political attacks on him and his followers.
CRA to roll out new automatic tax filing system. Here’s what to know
‘Work to be done’: 1 year after residential schools apology, Vatican rejects Doctrine of Discovery
Few serious contenders have emerged to take on Trump for the Republican nomination, making the political fallout difficult to determine. Some potential candidates, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, came to Trump’s defence Thursday, while others were more cautious and stressed it was too early to draw conclusions about the case.
“He’s been the frontrunner, and this will probably keep him as the frontrunner,” said Matthew Lebo, a professor and chair of the political science department at Western University.
“This probably feels good from Trump’s perspective in terms of the media, in terms of firing up his base. But there will be lots of people in the elite of the Republican Party that (this) just makes them want to move on from him that much more, and they’ll be trying to find their candidate.”
Republicans have largely rallied to Trump’s defence in the case, including those like his former vice president Mike Pence who have criticized his conduct in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Pence told CNN during a previously-scheduled town hall event that the indictment was “an outrage,” though he claimed — as other Republicans have without citing evidence — that the charges related to “a campaign finance issue.”
Prominent Trump defenders in Congress and around the country called the indictment of a former president “a dark day,” “political persecution,” “election interference” and a sign of further “weaponization of the Justice Department.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy framed the indictment as “an outrageous abuse of power” rooted in little more than “political vengeance,” and vowed to get to the bottom of it.
“Outrageous,” is all Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of Trump’s most ardent supporters and the chairman of the House Judicial Committee, said in a tweet.
Donald Trump still faces multiple other legal worries. Here are all of them
Other, more moderate Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have stayed silent on the case and the news of an indictment.
Democrats, meanwhile, said if Trump broke the law, he should face charges like any American.
Trump faces other potential legal perils as he seeks to reassert control of the Republican Party and stave off a slew of one-time allies who are seeking or are likely to oppose him for the presidential nomination.
The district attorney in Atlanta has for two years been investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to meddle in Georgia’s 2020 vote count, and has said charges in that case are “imminent.” And a U.S. Justice Department special counsel is investigating Trump’s storage of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida and his efforts to reverse his election loss.
— with files from The Associated Press