Washington: Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury after a probe into hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, becoming the first former US president to face criminal charges, even as he makes another run for the White House.
The case against Trump arises from an investigation led by Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and could reshape the 2024 presidential race. Trump previously said he would continue campaigning for the Republican Party’s nomination if charged with a crime.
Former president Donald Trump.Credit:AP
Joe Tacopina, a lawyer for Trump, said he had been told a grand jury that had been meeting for months voted to indict Trump. The specific charges were not immediately made public.
Authorities are now bracing themselves for potential clashes after Trump issued a post on his Truth Social online platform, pre-empting he would be arrested and urging supporters to take to the streets on his behalf.
He will be the first US president to be charged with a crime. In an attack on prosecutors investigating him over the alleged hush-money payments, Trump warned of “potential death and destruction” if he was indicted.
“What kind of person can charge another person, in this case, a former president of the United States, who got more votes than any sitting president in history, and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a crime, when it is known by all that NO crime has been committed, & also that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our country?” Trump wrote last Friday, US time.
The investigation derives from an alleged affair Trump had with Daniels in 2006, when he was a reality TV star and she was in her twenties. Daniels had sought to sell her story to the press for years, and as the 2016 election approached between Trump and Hillary Clinton, Trump’s then “fixer”, Michael Cohen, took out a home equity loan to pay the actress to keep quiet.
While hush money does not constitute a crime in itself, it is alleged that Trump reimbursed Cohen, falsified business records and then sought to cover up an unreported campaign donation, which is in violation of New York state law.
The former president – who was invited to testify before the grand jury but refused – has denied the allegations.
As the case reached its final stretch, New York City police officers have been erecting scaffolding outside Manhattan Criminal Court and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office to mitigate the potential for violence.
The Manhattan probe is one of several involving the actions of the twice-impeached president, and is regarded by legal experts as the weakest case against Trump. Other investigations include a Department of Justice probe into the events of the January 6 Capitol attack; a Georgia-based investigation into election interference in that state; and another Justice Department investigation into the handling of classified documents.
However, the indictment represents the first time a US president – while in office or afterwards – has faced criminal charges. Trump, who is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has said he would continue campaigning even if charged.
But while Trump is currently the frontrunner to become the 2024 Republican presidential candidate, an indictment could hurt his attempt at a comeback, particularly if, as expected, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis enters the race. About 44 per cent of Republicans say Trump should drop out from the contest if he is indicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that concluded this month.
Legal experts say that a trial of the former US president could be at least a year away. Prosecutors would also have to reach a high bar to win the case, including proving that the hush money was paid with the election solely in mind and that the payment was “falsely accounted” as a legal retainer to Cohen.
Cohen was a key witness in the grand jury investigation, but has come under fire for being an admitted liar and convicted felon.
With Reuters, AP
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