The Trump indictment: What we know so far
The Manhattan district attorney makes history prosecuting a former president
On Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C., as commuters waited on subway platforms or made their way down the city sidewalks, the news began pinging, buzzing, and swiping its way across the country. A breathless jogger paused at a crosswalk near the U.S. Capitol and stopped in her tracks to squint at the notification that flashed across the top of her phone screen. “Woo! Trump has been indicted!” she shouted to no one in particular.
The unprompted proclamation underscored the significance of the news: For the first time in American history, a former president had been indicted. Here’s a look at what that means for former President Donald Trump and for the country.
What is the grand jury’s role? A grand jury weighs whether enough evidence exists to bring a criminal defendant to trial. The state of New York requires a grand jury indictment for all felony cases. Prosecutors present evidence and question witnesses before the panel without defendants or their attorneys present. If jurors approve it, the indictment serves as the tool by which the prosecutor informs a defendant of the charges—a requirement laid out by the U.S. Constitution.
The grand jury impaneled in Manhattan voted to indict former President Donald Trump on Thursday evening. The group was composed of 23 members, 16 of whom had to be present to determine charges.
What was this investigation about? Grand jury investigations are secret, and prosecutors and jurors may not discuss them publicly. But witnesses can talk about their testimonies. Those who testified before the Trump grand jury indicated that prosecution was zeroing in on hush money payments made to Stephanie Clifford, a pornographic film actress also known as Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom said they had extramarital affairs with Trump.
Why were the payments made? Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen said he paid $130,000 to Clifford and another $150,000 to the National Enquirer to pass along to McDougal days before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen has confessed arranging the payments and then receiving reimbursement later when Trump was in office. When he first admitted to having made the payments, he contended Trump was not involved in any way but changed his story later on.
Trump denies any extramarital involvement with Clifford or McDougal. He also says Cohen can’t be trusted as a witness. Trump pointed out that Cohen pleaded guilty to eight separate crimes—including making false statements to a bank and unlawful campaign contributions. Cohen testified for several hours to the Manhattan grand jury earlier this month.
Are the payments a crime? Paying an individual to keep a secret isn’t illegal in New York—but falsification of records is. Under New York penal code, it could be a Class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison. Normally, falsifying records is only a misdemeanor. But when compounded by a second crime with an intent to defraud, it can become a felony.
Why now? Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. opened an investigation into the payments in 2019 but largely decided to drop the matter. He instead focused on the Trump Organization’s business dealings. The company was convicted on 17 felony charges last year. Current Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg revived the investigation and impaneled the grand jury two months after Trump announced his presidential candidacy for 2024.
What happens next? Court officials confirmed Friday that Trump will be booked by the New York Police Department, including fingerprinting and a mug shot, on Tuesday morning. Trump attorney Joe Tacopina said Bragg wanted a Friday morning surrender. Accordingly, the NYPD circulated a memo instructing on-duty officers to be in uniform and mobilized in case of protests. But Trump is a former president, which means he gets a full-time Secret Service detail. Trump’s team said security needs more time to coordinate a visit to New York City. Also because he is under Secret Service protection, Trump is unlikely to see the inside of a jail cell. A state judge will arraign the former president, set a court date, and likely release him without bail as is typical of financial-related charges in the state.
Can Trump still run for president? A candidate can still run for and hold elected office even if a trial is pending or he is convicted. The state court judge could block Trump from traveling, which could affect his campaign.
Venture capitalist Vivek Ramaswamy is running against Trump with a long-shot campaign as a political outsider. In a Twitter video, he said, “It is un-American for the ruling party to use police power to arrest its political rivals.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to announce his campaign for president in the coming months. He issued a statement on Thursday saying he would not support an extradition request from the Manhattan district attorney, whom he accused of “stretching the law to target a political opponent.” If Trump voluntarily surrenders as planned, extradition won’t be necessary.
Trump predicts that the “witch hunt” against him will “backfire massively.” He called on social media for supporters to protest his arrest and “take our nation back.” U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., said she will travel to New York City next week and urged her own Twitter followers to join her to support the former president.
At a panel discussion at the National Review Institute Ideas Summit in Washington on Thursday, conservative talk show host Megyn Kelly predicted the indictment will boost Trump’s campaign.
“If I were Trump I’d be on my little altar every night praying that Alvin Bragg indicts me,” Kelly told the crowd. She cited Trump’s rising poll numbers. “Why? He’s in the news. … These criminal prosecutions are persecutions. … He does well when he’s being persecuted.”
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