New York grand jury on Thursday indicted former US President Donald Trump over hush money payments made to a porn star during his 2016 election campaign.
The 76-year-old Republican has now become the first former US president to face criminal charges. His indictment is certain to upend the current presidential race in which Trump hopes to regain office.
And it will forever mark the legacy of the former leader, who survived two impeachments and kept prosecutors at bay over everything from the US Capitol riot to missing classified files only to land in court over a sex scandal involving Stormy Daniels, a 44-year-old adult movie actress.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office confirmed that it had contacted Trump’s lawyers Thursday evening to “coordinate his surrender” for arraignment in New York – with the felony charges against him to be revealed at that point.
Trump slammed the indictment as “political persecution and election interference,” raging against prosecutors and his Democratic opponents and vowing that it would backfire on his successor, President Joe Biden.
Surrendering for arraignment which Trump’s lawyers have said he would do if indicted – would normally involve him being fingerprinted and photographed, potentially even handcuffed.
In the Republican camp, Trump’s allies and sons denounced what they see as a vendetta aimed at derailing his 2024 campaign while his expected challenger for the party nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, slammed the indictment as “un-American.”
Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, said the indictment had “irreparably damaged” the country.
But the top Democrat Adam Schiff – lead prosecutor of Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 – called it “a sobering and unprecedented development.”
“The indictment and arrest of a former president is unique throughout all of American history,” Schiff said in a statement. “But so too is the unlawful conduct for which Trump has been charged.”
An attorney for Daniels welcomed the news as proof that “no one is above the law.”
“The indictment of Donald Trump is no cause for joy,” Clark Brewster tweeted. “Now let truth and justice prevail.”
Possible protests –
On March 18, Trump had declared he expected to be arrested within days over the payment to Daniels – who received $130,000 weeks before the election that brought Trump to power, to stop her from going public about a tryst she claims they had a decade earlier.
In predicting his indictment, Trump also issued a call for demonstrations and dark warnings that it could lead to “potential death & destruction” that “could be catastrophic for our Country.”
His statement set New York on edge for possible protests but the prospect of a quick indictment had receded as the grand jury panel continued to hear witnesses – until Thursday.
A media scrum quickly gathered Thursday
outside the district attorney’s office, along with a handful of anti-Trump protesters – but the situation was calm overall.
Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, who has testified before the grand jury, told Congress in 2019 that he made the payment to Daniels on Trump’s behalf and was later reimbursed.
Prosecutors argued the checks were not properly registered, and the jury was asked to consider if there had been a cover-up, intended to benefit Trump’s campaign by burying the scandal.
The New York investigation is the first to reach a decision on charges out of three major probes into the former president