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Former president Donald Trump indictment sets US on uncertain course

The grand jury on Thursday voted to indict 76-year-old Trump, a Republican, for his role in paying money to porn star Stormy Daniels in an attempt to buy her silence over an alleged affair

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Agencies New York
Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on charges related to paying off a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign, making him the first former US president to face a criminal charge and upending his bid to retake the White House in 2024.

The grand jury on Thursday voted to indict 76-year-old Trump, a Republican, for his role in paying money to porn star Stormy Daniels in an attempt to buy her silence over an alleged affair.

Trump’s expected appearance before a judge in Manhattan on Tuesday as the Republican mounts a comeback bid for the presidency could further inflame divisions across the country.

The indictment remains under seal and it is not clear what crimes and how many criminal counts Trump has been charged with. CNN reported that the former president has been charged with more than 30 counts.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has been pursuing the investigation for years, confirmed that it had contacted Trump’s lawyers on Thursday evening to “coordinate his surrender” on unspecified charges.

The New York Times termed Trump’s indictment “a historic development that will shake up the 2024 presidential race and forever mark him as the nation’s first former president to face criminal charges.” Trump, the 45th US President from 2017 to 2021, is expected to fly from his home in Florida to New York on Monday and be arraigned in court on Tuesday. The proceeding is expected to be brief. The charges in the indictment will be read to him at the hearing, which is set to last about 10-15 minutes.

Trump has denied all wrongdoing in connection with the payments made ahead of the election.

In a statement responding to news of his indictment, the former president called it “Political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history,” and accused Democrats of “weaponising our justice system to punish a political opponent, who just so happens to be a President of the US.” “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,” Trump said.

He lashed out at Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, calling the prosecutor a “disgrace”, and accused him of “doing Joe Biden’s dirty work.”

Following the indictment, Stormy Daniels thanked her supporters. “I have so many messages coming in that I can’t respond...also don’t want to spill my champagne,” she tweeted.

President Joe Biden repeatedly declined to comment on the indictment of Donald Trump on Friday morning, CNN reported.

Trump attorneys Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina issued a statement, saying that the former president “did not commit any crime” and vowed to “vigorously fight this political prosecution in Court.”  The case stems from a payment made just days before Trump was elected president in 2016. His former attorney Michael Cohen arranged a wire transfer of $130,000 to Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair.
What happens now?

Any potential trial is still at minimum over a year away raising the possibility that Trump could face a jury during or even after the 2024 campaign

Challenging the case

Trump has accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of targeting him for political gain and could try to seek dismissal of the charges on those grounds

To elevate that charge to a felony, prosecutors must prove that Trump falsified records to cover up a second crime

Prosecutors may assert the payment violated state campaign finance law

Fingerprints and Mugshot

Trump’s legal team is negotiating a surrender date, when Trump would have to travel to the district attorney’s office in New York to be fingerprinted and photographed

Trump would then make an appearance in court, where he would be formally charged

He would likely be allowed to head home afterward

If Trump decided not to come, prosecutors could seek his extradition

2024 presidential bid

The court case will affect his campaign but it will not exclude him from running for office next year

Any criminal charges, or even a jail sentence, would not restrict Trump from running for office under the US constitution

Historically, there are instances of individuals running for president while facing charges or even from a prison cell

THE CASE FILE

New York prosecutors have been investigating the payment of hush money to an adult film star prior to Trump’s election in 2016

Former porn star Stormy Daniels claims she had an adulterous affair with the former president, and was paid $130,000 to keep quiet

The payment was legal - but Trump allegedly recorded it as a business expense. Falsifying business records is illegal in New York

Trump is expected to appear in court to face the charges and enter a plea in New York next Tuesday

He denies wrongdoing, and the affair, saying the indictment is “political persecution”

US media say Trump faces more than two dozen charges linked to business fraud - although that is not officially confirmed

Republicans are calling the indictment an “outrage”, while Democrats say no-one is above the law

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First Published: Mar 31 2023 | 11:04 PM IST

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