Former President Trump has been indicted in New York City on charges related to a $130,000 payment made by his former attorney Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign, money allegedly paid to prevent the actor from publicly saying she had an affair with Trump.
The unprecedented indictment, reported Thursday by multiple media outlets, marks the first time in history that a former U.S. president has been criminally prosecuted. It comes as Trump is facing separate, ongoing investigations into his alleged involvement in 2020 election interference by his supporters and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, along with his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
Trump is a declared candidate for president in 2024, and his Republican allies have sought to portray the work of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as politically motivated, with the former president calling on his supporters in a social media post Saturday to protest and “take our nation back.” Over the last year, Bragg revived the investigation, which was initiated in 2018 but was repeatedly placed on the back-burner.
Trump, who declined an invitation to testify before the grand jury, has denied the affair with Daniels and alleged that she demanded cash because of his vulnerability as a presidential candidate. Earlier this month, the grand jury heard from Cohen, who in 2018 pleaded guilty to several charges including federal campaign finance crimes involving the hush money payout. Federal prosecutors concluded the payment, which came shortly after Trump faced criticism, was an improper donation to Trump’s campaign.
Trump made repeated pleas for supporters to protest on his Truth Social platform, predicting “potential death & destruction” that “could be catastrophic for our Country” if he is charged with a crime.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., urged people not to protest, but directed relevant congressional committees to determine “if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions.”
The Republican chairmen of the House committees on the Judiciary, on House Administration, and on Oversight and Accountability demanded Monday in a joint letter that Bragg testify before Congress about his investigation, which they called “an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.” They also ordered Bragg to turn over material from his investigation, an unusual demand by lawmakers in an ongoing criminal probe.
Before the indictment was announced, Trump attorney Joe Tacopina called on the New York City Department of Investigation, the city’s inspector general, to investigate what he called the “weaponization” of the district attorney’s office.
Law enforcement in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C., have prepared for the protests Trump and his allies encouraged, though it isn’t clear how large they may be. On Monday, bike rack fencing was placed around the Capitol, and the New York Police Department erected steel barricades outside the Manhattan criminal court.
There are three other criminal investigations involving Trump.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Atlanta is weighing potential indictments stemming from Trump’s attempts to change Georgia election results in the weeks after the 2020 election. In February, portions of the long-awaited Georgia special grand jury report were released, though the recommended charges and potential targets remain under wraps.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed in November by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, is overseeing two investigations: one to determine if Trump intentionally held onto classified information after leaving office and didn’t comply with a subpoena to return the documents, and another scrutinizing Trump’s actions to remain in office after losing the presidential election.
Grand juries have convened in both inquiries and are actively hearing from witnesses. Potential indictments from the special counsel investigations aren’t likely to occur for months.
—Sarah D. Wire and Arit John, Los Angeles Times