March 31, 2023
Donald Trump has been indicted, becoming the first former President in United States history to be charged with a crime.
Although the indictment has not been unsealed, NBC reported this morning that it includes as many as 30 criminal counts related to Trump's role in a 2016 hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
While the long-awaited decision by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office is the first criminal case against Trump himself to reach the indictment stage, it is a likely precursor to far more serious charges to come in multiple ongoing federal and state-level investigations regarding Trump's actions before, during, and after his presidency.
The Trump Organization was convicted in New York State Supreme Court in December 2022 on 17 counts of tax fraud, grand larceny and falsifying business records, but Trump and his children, who are senior executives in the company, were not charged personally at the time.
|An indictment is a formal document of criminal charges against an individual. A grand jury, convened from members of the public, hears evidence from witnesses presented by prosecutors over a period of days, weeks or months. At the end of the confidential process, jurors must cast a majority vote to indict the accused.
The case involves a hush money scheme -- carried out in the final months of the 2016 presidential election -- to silence Daniels about a past affair she had with Trump.
Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen has testified that he coordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels and a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Most of the indictment is understood to be related to document fraud, including Trump’s $420,000 payment to Cohen to cover his original $130,000 payment to Daniels, as well as for tax liabilities and a personal bonus -- recorded as “legal expenses” by The Trump Organization.
It is a misdemeanor under New York law to misclassify business expenses. The charge can become upgraded to a felony if done to cover up another crime, such as violation of campaign finance law.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations concerning the hush money payments, which federal prosecutors said amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign. He was also convicted of perjury related to a Senate investigation of the Trump Organization's ties to Russia, ultimately serving one year in federal prison and two years under house arrest. Prosecutors declined to file charges against Trump at that time.
|An arraignment usually occurs the first time a criminal defendant appears in court, when they hear the charges against them and submit a plea. The defendant is then typically fingerprinted and photographed while fielding standard identification questions, a process that may include handcuffs. After formally arraigned, a judge decides on the defendant's bail.
Trump’s attorney and the Manhattan DA’s office have arranged for the former president to surrender on Tuesday, April 4, where he will be arraigned at 2:15pm in Manhattan in state Supreme Court.
As no former President has ever been arrested or indicted, the courts are in unchartered territory, but Trump will have to go through the booking process -- albeit with US Secret Service protection by his side. Under any circumstances, it is likely to be a well-choreographed public performance by Trump, who has successful exploited the indictment to rally his base and donors.
After arraignment, Trump is expected to be released without bail until pre-trial court hearings are scheduled, which could take up to a few months.
New York City law enforcement officials have been making security arrangements since Trump first falsely claimed he would be arrested last week, setting off a media frenzy with a call to his followers to "Protest, take our nation back!"
Alt-right social media figures have since called for an armed confrontation with law enforcement, provoked by Trump himself in dozens of posts on his media site Truth Social.
Attempting to harness the outrage of his supporters, Trump on Thursday said of the indictment, "The American people realize exactly what the Radical Left Democrats are doing...our Party -- united and strong -- will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden, and we are going to throw every last one of these Crooked Democrats out of office so we can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Radio host and far-right conspiracy theorist Dan Bongino lamented that "the police state is here," while Fox News host Tucker Carlson said, in the wake of the indictment, "probably not the best time to give up your AR-15s."
Affirming his party's reluctance to alienate Trump, or more significantly, his supporters, national Republicans rose to his defense, while attacking the Manhattan DA. GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Bragg had "[weaponized] our sacred system of justice against President Donald Trump," and threatened that Congress will hold Bragg "and his unprecedented abuse of power to account."
Former UN Ambassador and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, a Trump presidential rival, said the case was "poltical prosecution," and unofficial rival Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called the indictment "un-American."
An indictment, or conviction, does not disqualify Trump from running for president in 2024.
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Sources: Manhattan DA's Office, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post