Trump indicted in porn star hush money payment case
politico.com – By Erica Orden and Meridith McGraw – NEW YORK — A New York grand jury indicted former President Donald Trump on Thursday over his alleged role in a scheme to pay hush money to a porn actress during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The indictment, voted on by the grand jury on Thursday afternoon and filed under seal, according to the individuals, thrusts the country onto uncharted and uncertain legal and political ground.
The case against Trump, brought by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, is centered on a $130,000 payment to an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair with Trump. Trump has denied the affair. He is the first former president to ever be criminally charged.
Trump’s lawyers continued to maintain the former president’s innocence on Thursday.
“President Trump has been indicted. He did not commit any crime,” the attorneys Joe Tacopina and Susan Necheles said in a statement. “We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in Court.”
Trump released a statement shortly after the news of the indictment broke, calling it a “witch-hunt,” and saying the move was an attempt by Democrats to interfere in the 2024 election.
“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” Trump wrote in his statement. “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 also went after District Attorney Alvin Bragg, saying he was “doing Joe Biden’s dirty work.”
The district attorney’s office requested that Trump surrender on Friday, but Trump’s lawyers replied that the timeline was too tight, saying the U.S. Secret Service needed more time to prepare, according to a law enforcement official. Tacopina confirmed the exchange, adding that no date had been set for the former president’s surrender. A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has already tried to use the charges to rally his base, calling on his followers to protest and “take back our nation.” But there’s no precedent for a presidential candidate campaigning during his own criminal trial. And while the case could stretch beyond November 2024, a conviction before then would spark a host of constitutional issues.
Can we explain Trump’s indictment drama in under 2 minutes?
Trump’s indictment follows the unrelated December conviction of his family business, the Trump Organization, for tax fraud in a case also prosecuted by Bragg.
The indictment of Trump stems from the 2018 federal conviction of his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for facilitating the payment to Daniels. That payment came during the heart of the 2016 presidential campaign. And both Cohen and federal prosecutors have said that he acted “in coordination with and at the direction of” the former president.
“I stand by my testimony and the evidence that I provided to the district attorney of New York,” Cohen said on Thursday during an interview on MSNBC. While the indictment is “significant,” Cohen said, “it’s extremely important that we let the process work out, and that people do still understand that there is a presumption of innocence in this country.”
The Trump Organization later reimbursed Cohen for the payment to Daniels, prosecutors said in court filings. The company’s executives authorized $420,000 in payments to Cohen in an effort to cover his original payment and tax liabilities, and to reward him with a bonus, according to prosecutors. The Trump Organization falsely recorded those payments in their books as legal expenses, prosecutors said.
Federal prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office subsequently pursued a criminal inquiry into whether those payments violated campaign finance law, but they later ended the probe without bringing charges.
The company’s former chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg, who was given immunity by federal prosecutors in their investigation of the hush money that led to the charges against Cohen, pleaded guilty to an unrelated tax fraud scheme in August 2022.
Cohen testified before the grand jury in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation of Trump. It’s unclear whether Weisselberg, who is now serving a five-month jail sentence, was also called as a witness.
Though the district attorney’s office offered Trump the opportunity to testify before the grand jury prior to his indictment, he declined to do so.