Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury over hush money payments made to a porn star during his 2016 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 office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has been pursuing the investigation, confirmed that it had contacted Trump’s lawyers on Thursday evening (March 30) to “coordinate his surrender” on unspecified charges.
“This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal. Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected,” a spokesperson for District Attorney Bragg said.
Also read: Trump claims ‘no crime’ in fresh all-caps tirade over porn star payoff, likely arrest
The New York Times newspaper, quoting five people with knowledge of the matter, reported that the grand jury on Thursday (March 30) 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.
First former president to face criminal charges
The report termed it “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 (April 3) and be arraigned in court on Tuesday (April 4), two sources familiar with the matter told CBS News.
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.
Political persecution and election interference at highest level: Trump
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 the Democrats of “weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent, who just so happens to be a President of the United States.”
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“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.
Trump calls District Attorney Alvin Bragg a ‘disgrace’
He lashed out at the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, calling the prosecutor a “disgrace”, and accused him of “doing Joe Biden’s dirty work”.
“This is third-world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year,” Trump’s son Eric tweeted.
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.”
Trump, who has announced his candidacy for the 2024 presidential polls, said, “I believe this witch-hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” he said in a strongly-worded statement after the news of his indictment broke.
Indicted for paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels
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 USD 130,000 to Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair.
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Daniels has said she had a sexual encounter with Trump at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006 – the year after he married his current wife Melania.
Cohen has said in court that he made the USD 130,000 settlement “in coordination with and at the direction of” the former president. Cohen was jailed from 2018-20 on multiple charges.
Stormy Daniels thanks her supporters
Following the indictment, 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.
“Thank you to everyone for your support and love! Teamstormy merch/autograph orders are pouring in, too! Thank you for that as well but allow a few extra days for shipment,” the 44-year-old adult actress said.
Daniels’ attorney Clark Brewster tweeted: “The indictment of Donald Trump is no cause for joy. The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected. Now let truth and justice prevail. No one is above the law.”
Nikki Haley says indictment is ‘revenge’
Indian-American Republican presidential candidates Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy have claimed that former US president Donald Trump’s indictment in a criminal case was about “revenge” and said it was a “dark day” in the history of the country.
In an interview with Fox News, Haley said, “From everything I’ve seen from this New York district attorney, this would be something he’d be doing for political points. And I think what we know is when you get into political prosecutions like this, it’s more about revenge than it is about justice. I think the country would be better off talking about things that the American public cares about, than have to deal with some revenge by some political people in New York,” she said.
Politically motivated, un-American: Vivek Ramaswamy
Vivek Ramaswamy termed Trump’s indictment “politically motivated” which would “undermine public trust in our electoral system and our justice system”.
“It is un-American for the ruling party to use police power to arrest its political rivals. Principles go beyond partisanship. The American people should decide who governs, not politically-ambitious prosecutors,” he said.
“Our entire country is skating on thin ice right now and we cannot afford to politicise the justice system or else we will reach our breaking point. I pray for our national unity and call on every current and prospective presidential candidate in both parties to condemn this dangerously politicised prosecution,” Ramaswamy said.
Matt Schlapp condemns ‘abuse of power’ by district attorney Bragg
Conservative Political Action Committee chairman Matt Schlapp said that he is appalled by the news of Trump’s indictment, and strongly condemned the “abuse of power” by New York district attorney Alvin L. Bragg.
“Americans have lost confidence in institutions and government experts because truth has become a casualty to raw political power,” he said. The renewed prosecutorial pursuit and indictment of former president Trump is an “outrageous breach of constitutional norms and a continuation of his maniacal political prosecution”, Schlapp said.
“We believe that the authoritarian punishment of political opponents is deeply un-American and is more akin to the proceedings of a kangaroo court in a corrupt third-world banana republic. For too long now our justice system has been at the disposal of unhinged bureaucrats, overzealous activist judges, and radicalized individuals who have transformed the institutions into political weapons,” he said.
Justice system weaponised as political tool endangers all of us: Ronna McDaniel
Republican National Committee chairperson Ronna McDaniel said, “When our justice system is weaponized as a political tool, it endangers all of us. This (indictment) is a blatant abuse of power from a DA focused on political vengeance instead of keeping people safe.”
The indictment comes as Trump faces legal hurdles in other potential criminal cases. The criminal case could shape the 2024 presidential race. Trump is currently the front-runner among all declared and potential contenders for the Republican White House nomination.
Also read: Donald Trump ‘expects’ to be arrested on Tuesday in ‘hush money’ case
Trump can still become president, and even serve from prison
But there is nothing in US law that prevents a candidate who is found guilty of a crime from campaigning for and serving as president – even from prison.
Trump was twice impeached by the House of Representatives. He was acquitted by the Senate both times.
(With inputs from agencies)