Exact charges against former president aren’t known; case centers on hush-money payments to porn star
A Manhattan grand jury has voted to indict Donald Trump for his role in paying hush-money to a porn star on the eve of the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter, marking the first time in American history that a former president has faced criminal charges.
The grand jury returned the indictment of Mr. Trump after a vote on Thursday, the people said, kicking off a process in which the former president will likely be required to come to New York to face the charges. The indictment, sought by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, isn’t public.
In New York, judges routinely keep charges under wraps until defendants make their initial appearance in court.
A spokesman for Mr. Trump and a spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg didn’t immediately comment.
The case brought by Mr. Bragg, a Democrat, is far from a sure bet. Mr. Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., and federal prosecutors each passed on charging Mr. Trump in a stand-alone case related to the hush money. If the case goes to trial, a conviction would almost certainly require a jury to credit the testimony of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who has faced his own legal troubles and pleaded guilty to an array of federal felonies in 2018.
Among them was a campaign-finance offense for the porn-star payment, as well as charges of lying to a bank and to Congress.
Mr. Cohen says Mr. Trump directed him to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 on the eve of the 2016 election in exchange for her keeping quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump has denied any affair with Ms. Daniels and said he followed Mr. Cohen’s advice as his lawyer.
The state case in New York is unlikely to have any legal bearing on Mr. Trump’s presidential candidacy, even if he is ultimately convicted. The U.S. Constitution imposes no requirement that candidates for the highest office have a clean record, and there is a legal consensus that states are barred from imposing their own restrictions on presidential candidates, said Derek Muller, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law.
The indictment could cut different ways for Mr. Trump politically. He has shown resilience among his supporters amid numerous legal issues and controversies and has already used the threat of prosecution as a rallying point to raise campaign funds and argue that he is being charged unfairly for political reasons. At the same time, Mr. Trump’s standing has eroded among some Republicans, numerous polls have shown, and the case could make some voters more likely to support another candidate.
The hush-money investigation, triggered in part by a series of Wall Street Journal articles in 2018 about the payment, was the longest-running of several active criminal probes of Mr. Trump. While the case is focused on his alleged conduct before and during the early part of his presidential term, other investigations have been examining Mr. Trump’s actions during his later White House years and after he left office. Prosecutors’ decisions in those matters promise larger stakes, because they involve more serious alleged conduct that comes with greater potential penalties.
The Justice Department is investigating the handling of classified documents at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and efforts by Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating attempts by Mr. Trump and his supporters to influence Georgia’s 2020 election results.
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