Former President Trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury Thursday, making history as the first executive — sitting or former — to face criminal charges.
The indictment comes after District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) initiated a probe investigating Trump’s involvement in organizing hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign.
The charges, explosive in any context, are made even more so because Trump is running again for the White House in 2024, and leads the field by a huge margin in the nascent race for the GOP nomination.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s extraordinary development.
Charges filed, but specifics unclear
Bragg has been investigating a $130,000 hush money payment that Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels in 2018. (Getty Images)
The indictment — which contains the specific charges — will remain under seal until Trump appears in court for his arraignment on Tuesday, unless Bragg successfully asks a judge to unseal it early.
The specifics remain unclear, but a source familiar with the proceedings confirmed to The Hill that it includes a felony.
Bragg has been probing a $130,000 hush money payment that Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, made to Daniels in October 2016, just weeks before the presidential election.
A hush payment by itself is legal, but outside legal experts have suggested the indictment is likely to focus on charges of falsifying business records. Prosecutors would first need to show that Trump, with an intent to defraud, was personally involved in improperly designating reimbursements a legal expense.
More coverage of the Trump indictment from The Hill:
That still amounts to a misdemeanor under New York law, carrying up to one year of jail time per count.
But the inclusion of a felony charge suggests prosecutors believe they can make a case tying the record falsification to another crime, augmenting the maximum jail time to four years per count.
Trump has acknowledged the payment to Daniels, though he denies her claim the two had sexual relations. Trump’s attorneys have also claimed that Trump made the payment to protect false information from hurting his marriage. They have contended he did not make the payment to influence the election, nodding to the possibility that Bragg could seek felony charges by asserting the payments violated campaign laws in some fashion.
Trump will be in court next week
As footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol is displayed in the background, former President Donald Trump stands while a song, “Justice for All,” is played during a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Trump is set to be arraigned Tuesday, appearing in court in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday so the charges against him can be read aloud.
One of Trump’s attorneys, speaking before the indictment was filed, said Trump plans to surrender to authorities.
“There won’t be a standoff at Mar-a-Lago with Secret Service and the Manhattan DA’s office,” attorney Joe Tacopina told the New York Daily News earlier this month.
Standard procedure indicates that Trump would provide fingerprints and potentially a mugshot before being released ahead of trial.
White-collar defendants are typically handcuffed as they walk into the courthouse in Lower Manhattan for their arraignment, when they formally enter a plea.
According to reporting from The Guardian, Trump has previously told those close to him that he wants to be handcuffed when appearing for the arraignment, believing it would be a greater show of strength.
Despite earlier signs from Trump’s legal team that the former president, a Florida resident, plans to arrive at the arraignment, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said the state “will not assist in an extradition request.”
Bragg’s office said Thursday evening that they contacted Trump’s attorney “to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment.”
Trump and allies cry political persecution
Former President Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on Saturday, March 4, 2023. (Greg Nash)
The former president and his political orbit quickly denounced the indictment as a politically motivated effort to drag down Trump’s 2024 campaign.
“I believe this Witch-Hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden. The American people realize exactly what the Radical Left Democrats are doing here. Everyone can see it. So our Movement, and our Party – united and strong – will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden,” Trump said in a statement.
Taylor Budowich, a spokesperson for a Trump-aligned Super PAC, claimed “political elites and powerbrokers” were united in an effort to try and stop Trump from returning to the White House.
And Trump’s attorneys representing him in the Manhattan case vowed to “vigorously fight” the charges in court.
Several of Trump’s potential rivals in a 2024 presidential primary also jumped to his defense on Thursday, condemning the prosecution as politically motivated.
DeSantis, perhaps Trump’s most formidable challenger, called the charges “un-American.” Vivek Ramaswamy, another 2024 candidate, warned the decision would undermine public trust and said it was a politicization of the Justice system.
What Trump says in the days to come will be closely watched. He caused an uproar in recent weeks when he called for supporters to protest and warned of “death and destruction” if Bragg moved forward with an indictment.
Not all Democrats are cheering
Schiff, who led Trump’s first impeachment investigation, has been critical of the DOJ for failing to bring any charges against Trump after more than two years from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. (Greg Nash)
While a vast majority of Democrats hailed the indictment as a victory for the rule of law, not all of Trump’s critics are cheering.
A handful of liberals are blasting the decision as a strategic mistake — politically speaking — since the Manhattan case features the least serious of the accusations Trump faces across various other investigations.
Those other investigations include Georgia’s probe into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, and the Justice Department’s examinations of Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the discovery of classified documents at his residence in South Florida.
Given the seriousness of the potential charges in those pending cases, some liberals fear that Bragg’s decision will undermine any indictments that follow.
“After inciting an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, pressuring local officials to overturn the 2020 election, receiving financial kickbacks from foreign powers, and numerous other crimes during his presidency, it’s embarrassing and infuriating that the first indictment against Trump is about…Stormy Daniels,” Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, said in a statement.
Some Democrats — including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led Trump’s first impeachment — have been highly critical of the DOJ for failing to bring any charges against Trump even more than two years after the Jan. 6 attack. Green on Thursday joined that chorus.
“The January 6th Select Committee and bold leaders like Jamie Raskin did their job,” he said. “It’s time for Merrick Garland and the Justice Department to do theirs.”
Other probes into Trump’s conduct are still ongoing
Former President Donald Trump announces a third run for president as he speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
While New York was the first to indict, Trump is being investigated by a number of entities across various probes.
Fulton Co. District Attorney Fani Willis (D) has also presented evidence to a grand jury about Trump’s attempts to influence the 2020 election there. Interviews from various jurors on the panel indicated that they recommended charges for multiple defendants in the matter.
Willis previously moved to block the release of a report from the grand jury, saying that charging decisions on multiple defendants were “imminent.” A judge ordered partial release of the report in February, however, which concluded there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 contest, undercutting a likely argument from Trump.
The known targets include former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and 16 Republicans who held a meeting to carry out the fake elector plot by voting to certify the election for Trump.
Trump has moved to quash the investigation, with Willis given until May 1 to respond.
Special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing two probes related to Trump, one reviewing efforts to block the transition of power following the 2020 election and another reviewing the mishandling of classified records at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump has lost several recent court battles dealing with those probes, with sealed orders from judges directing cooperation from a number of people close to the former president. Former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and other former White House aides have been ordered to testify in the Jan. 6 probe.
Evan Corcoran, Trump’s attorney in the Mar-a-Lago probe, was also ordered by a judge to return and testify in that probe, with a judge determining he could not use attorney-client privilege to avoid answering numerous questions asked in a prior grand jury appearance. In the ruling the judge determined that the legal advice to Trump may have been in furtherance of a crime, allowing the piercing of attorney-client privilege.