The charges against Trump follow criticism of the Manhattan Attorney’s Office for not acting sooner

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump has been indicted by a grand jury in New York City, his attorney said on Thursday after the prosecutor who brought the indictment came under political pressure for failing to test the former U.S. President had raised.

Although the charges against Trump were not released immediately — the first ever against a US president — they come after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg opened an investigation into any role by Trump in a $130,000 hush-money payment that his Attorney had resumed during Trump’s 2016 campaign for the White House.

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen said he made the payment to silence Daniels over an affair she allegedly had with Trump in 2006. Trump denies the affair took place.

Bragg’s indictment comes at a critical time as Trump is running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Bragg, a Democrat, took office in January 2022 after his predecessor indicted the former president’s family business and its chief financial executive over a 15-year tax fraud scheme.

A prosecutor leading that investigation, Mark Pomerantz, resigned in February 2022 after Bragg declined to charge Trump with financial crimes himself. Pomerantz has publicly criticized Bragg’s decision not to press charges and published a book about the investigation.

Pomerantz said concerns about potentially losing the case should be balanced against the ability to “encourage disrespect for the law” by not filing charges when warranted.

Bragg has defended his decision.

“I bring hard cases when they’re done,” Bragg said in a Feb. 7 news conference. “The Mark Pomerantz case just wasn’t done yet. So I said to my team, let’s keep working.”

Before the charges were filed, a spokesman for Bragg referred to the prosecutor’s earlier testimony. Trump has called the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Earlier this year, a grand jury began hearing evidence in the case.

Cohen previously testified that Trump directed him to arrange the payment made in the run-up to the 2016 election and in December 2018 pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges. Trump and his allies have tried to undermine Cohen’s credibility.

“It would be an unprecedented and unheard-of selective prosecution if the Attorney’s Office charged former President Trump, a victim of extortion, with a felony because his attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, a convicted liar, paid the extortionist,” Trump said. Attorney Susan Necheles in a statement earlier this month.

Proving Trump intended to commit a crime could be one of Bragg’s biggest challenges, said Jennifer Beidel, a partner at the law firm Saul Ewing and a former federal prosecutor.

“One would think that the former president would try to argue that people independent of him make their own decisions about what to do, perhaps out of motivation to please him, but perhaps not under his direction,” said Beil.

Bragg, the first black district attorney in Manhattan, was previously a federal prosecutor and a senior official in the New York State Attorney General’s office, where he led a lawsuit that forced the dissolution of the former president’s eponymous charitable foundation.

Shortly after taking office, he was criticized for a plan to refrain from prosecuting some minor crimes, to reduce pre-trial detention and to limit the length of sentences. Bragg argued that “excessive incarceration” did not improve public safety.

In the biggest trial win of his tenure so far, his office won the Trump Organization’s tax fraud conviction last December. That came after Allen Weisselberg, his former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty and testified against the company in court.

Several observers have defended Bragg against Pomerantz’s criticism.

“Bragg’s decision not to pull the trigger in February 2022 … was perhaps brave, not cowardly,” Andrew Weissman, a former federal prosecutor, wrote in a Washington Post review of Pomerantz’s book. “He had little to gain politically from the decision and a lot to lose.”

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Diane Craft and Daniel Wallis)

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