Former President Donald Trump is heading to New York on Monday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, to face criminal charges.
A Manhattan grand jury voted Thursday to indict Trump in connection to hush money payments to the porn actress Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign, according to multiple news reports. He is the first former US president to be charged with a crime.
It’s not clear exactly what the charges are yet. Yahoo News reported Tuesday that the indictment contains 34 counts related to falsifying business records, and that prosecutors are pursuing Class E felony charges. Those are New York state’s base-level felonies.
The indictment was filed under seal, and the Manhattan district attorney’s office is expected to formally announce the charges Tuesday at Trump’s scheduled arraignment. Trump does not intend to accept a plea deal and will fight the charges, according to his attorney. His campaign announced that he will return to Florida Tuesday night to deliver a speech.
Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for the Trump Organization and the star witness in the case, who paid Daniels $130,000 to stay silent about her relationship with Trump, suggested in a statement last week Thursday that he wanted to see Trump held to account. Cohen stood by his testimony and the evidence he provided to the prosecutor’s office, but also urged the public to give the former president the “presumption of innocence.”
“I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former president,” he said. “Today’s indictment is not the end of this chapter; but rather, just the beginning. Now that the charges have been filed, it is better for the case to let the indictment speak for itself.”
It might be only the first of several indictments to drop. Trump is also facing probes into his business dealings, interference in the 2020 election in Georgia, withholding of classified documents after he left office, and his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection.
How have Trump and the GOP reacted?
In a statement Thursday, Trump called the indictment “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” framing it as another partisan “Witch Hunt” and compared it to his two impeachments and the FBI raid on his home at Mar-a-Lago to retrieve classified documents. Trump also took aim at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who pushed the case, and urged his supporters to throw Democrats out of office.
“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,” he wrote.
MAGA-world figures rushed to Trump’s defense Thursday. His son Eric Trump called it “third world prosecutorial misconduct.” Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, warned that it was “undermining America’s confidence in our legal system.”
And Trump’s opponents in the 2024 Republican primary rallied behind him. Right-wing activist Vivek Ramaswamy, who announced his candidacy in February, called the indictment “politically motivated” and marking a “dark moment in American history.” And Nikki Haley, Trump’s former US ambassador to the United Nations who called for a “new generation of leadership” in her 2024 announcement video, said that the indictment was more about “revenge than it is about justice.”
Though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not formally announced his 2024 candidacy, he is widely considered to be the top challenger to Trump. He previously took a shot at Trump over the case, suggesting in a news conference earlier this month that he couldn’t relate to being accused of “paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.” But he still accused Bragg Thursday of turning the “rule of law on its head” and “stretching the law to target a political opponent.”
The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head.— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) March 30, 2023
It is un-American.
The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is…
What was Trump indicted for? And how strong is the case against him?
As of now, we do not know what the specific charges against Trump will be. But this case could potentially spark as much debate within the appellate courts as it will in the press and in the public.
As a 2021 report by the Brookings Institution explains, Trump’s payments to Stormy Daniels could violate a New York law governing false business records. According to the report, criminal charges could arise out of “any mischaracterization of hush payment reimbursements and of fringe benefits in the Trump Organization’s bookkeeping.”
Bragg’s office was reportedly investigating Trump’s payment to Daniels under a felony statute that prohibits falsifying certain business records. So there are outward signs that Bragg may be pursuing the same legal theory laid out by the Brookings report.
Under that statute, Trump could potentially be charged with a crime if he faked or destroyed such a record to cover up the payment to Daniels. But even if Bragg can prove that, the felony statute also requires him to prove that Trump did so “to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.”
That may seem like a light lift, because Cohen pleaded guilty to a federal campaign finance violation related to this Daniels payment. But it is also unclear whether New York law permits Bragg to link Trump to a federal crime in this indictment, as opposed to connecting Trump to a second violation of New York’s own criminal laws.
“No appellate court in New York” has ever decided whether a defendant can be charged with a felony for falsifying a business record to cover up a federal crime, according to a book by Mark Pomerantz, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office.
Of course, the grand jury could have voted to indict Trump on additional, or completely separate, charges. The formal legal documents laying out the specific allegations against Trump are not yet public.
Who is Stormy Daniels?
Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claims that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in his hotel room in Lake Tahoe in 2006 after meeting him at a charity golf tournament. That was after Trump married his current wife, Melania Trump, who at that point had just given birth.
Trump has long denied that the encounter occurred. While he has acknowledged that he reimbursed Cohen for paying off Daniels to keep her quiet, he said in 2018 that was just to prevent her from publicly making “false and extortionist accusations.”
Daniels later said in a 60 Minutes interview that she accepted the money because she was worried about her and her daughter’s safety, recounting how she was approached by a strange man who told her to “leave Trump alone” after she had agreed to a magazine interview about the encounter. But she only went public with the story in 2018. She claimed then that the hush money agreement was null and void because Trump never signed it.
Who is Michael Cohen?
Cohen served as Trump’s personal attorney from 2006 to 2018, when he was sentenced to three years in federal prison and fined $50,000 after pleading guilty to criminal tax evasion and campaign finance violations. He told a federal court that Trump, fearing an adverse potential impact on his 2016 campaign, directed him to pay a total of $280,000 in hush money to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in 2016, with whom Trump also allegedly had an affair.
Cohen also pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization’s efforts to expand in Moscow as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He was disbarred as a result.
Cohen was briefly released from prison in 2020 due to concerns over Covid-19. But he was taken back into custody where he was kept in solitary confinement 23 hours per day after allegedly refusing to sign an agreement that he would not engage with media until the end of his sentence, which concluded after the 2020 election.
He sued then-US Attorney Bill Barr and prison officials claiming that his First Amendment rights were being violated because he intended to publish his memoir, Disloyal, focusing on Trump. A judge ordered that he serve home arrest for the rest of his sentence and found that the federal government had retaliated against him.
Cohen’s plea deal didn’t require him to cooperate with prosecutors. But he became a key witness in the hush money case, giving closed-door testimony to the grand jury that issued Trump’s indictment. He also provided prosecutors with evidence, including voice recordings, emails, and text messages.
What happens next? Will Trump be arrested? Will Trump go to jail?
Once Trump submits himself to the DA’s office and faces arraignment, he’ll appear in court to hear the charges against him and submit a plea. He has reportedly expressed enthusiasm at the idea of being taken away in handcuffs in front of cameras, seemingly believing that he can turn the situation to his political advantage. But that probably won’t happen; the Secret Service will reportedly coordinate with law enforcement to quietly bring him to New York.
Trump voluntarily meeting with law enforcement will also save DeSantis facing pressure to turn in the former president: The Florida governor said that he would not abide by any extradition request to return Trump, who has been hunkering down in Mar-a-Lago, to New York to face the charges.
Trump will likely be released shortly after his arraignment, given that he doesn’t pose any flight risk as a presidential candidate. But he would likely be processed just like anyone else accused of a crime: He would be photographed, fingerprinted, and instructed of his right to remain silent.
We don’t yet know the charges in the case, which makes it difficult to ascertain what the minimum sentence might be or whether he might have to serve prison time at all if convicted.
What are the other cases against Trump?
Trump is facing three additional criminal probes, and all of them could yield additional indictments.
Two of them are being led by Jack Smith, a special counsel appointed by the Justice Department in November. One centers on Trump’s involvement in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. It follows a comprehensive House committee investigation last year that concluded that Trump had incited the insurrection and conspired to defraud the US government, referring him and other associates to the DOJ for prosecution. If charged and convicted on that basis, Trump could face up to 35 years in prison and more than $500,000 in fines.
The other DOJ probe concerns Trump’s withholding of classified documents after he left office and possible obstruction of the government’s efforts to recover them, which could lead to an up to 20-year prison sentence. In August, the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago to retrieve documents, including many that were marked “top secret” and kept in an unsecured location. Trump kept those documents despite his lawyers claiming that he had already turned over all of the sensitive materials in his possession. At least one of them concerned a foreign government’s nuclear capabilities, raising possible national security concerns.
Separately, a special grand jury investigated Trump and his associates’ efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. The jury has transmitted its final report to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who will decide whether to pursue charges. From the outset of the investigation, Willis zeroed in on a phone call in which Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the votes necessary for him to beat Joe Biden in the state. CNN reported that prosecutors are considering racketeering charges, which carry fines and a maximum 20-year prison sentence. Prosecutors are also reportedly weighing conspiracy charges, which carry a maximum sentence of five years and up to a $250,000 fine.
Trump is also facing a civil inquiry in New York centered on his business dealings. New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Trump, his company, and his three children for $250 million last year over alleged fraud, including lying about the value of the business, spanning a decade. A trial in that case is scheduled for October.
How the MAGA grassroots are responding
Figures in MAGA-world are providing Trump supporters with two choices: donate or protest.
Within an hour of news of the indictment breaking Thursday, Trump used it as an opportunity to fundraise, urging his supporters in an email to contribute in order to “defend our movement from never-ending witch hunts and WIN the WHITE HOUSE in 2024.”
Close Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also implored viewers several times on Fox News Thursday night to donate to the former president’s campaign: “They’re trying to drain him dry. He spent more money on lawyers than most people spend on campaigns. They’re trying to bleed him dry,” he said.
Those efforts paid off: Trump raised more than $4 million within 24 hours. And it’s not the first time Trump has tried to spin the various investigations into his conduct to his financial advantage. When Trump first announced that he would be indicted, incorrectly projecting that it would happen on March 14, he received $1.5 million in campaign contributions in three days. He’s also used the FBI search of Mar-a-lago, January 6, and his impeachment hearings to fundraise massive hauls.
Others, including Trump loyalist Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), have called for demonstrations. New York is beefing up police presence in Manhattan ahead of Tuesday in anticipation of such protests.
I’m going to New York on Tuesday.— Marjorie Taylor Greene (@mtgreenee) March 31, 2023
We MUST protest the unconstitutional WITCH HUNT!
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
Update, April 4, 9:45 am: This story was originally published on March 30 and has been updated several times, most recently to include new details of the charges Trump faces.