NEW YORK (AP) — donald trump was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, prosecutors and defense attorneys said Thursday, making him the first former US president to face criminal charges and rocking his attempt to retake the White House next year.
The charges remained classified late Thursday, but the investigation focused on payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter. Prosecutors said they were working to coordinate Trump’s surrender, which could happen early next week. They did not say if they intended to seek jail time if convicted, a development that would not prevent Trump from seeking or winning the presidency.
The indictment, an extraordinary development after years of investigations into Trump’s business, political and personal ties, puts a local prosecutor at the heart of a national presidential race and kicks off a criminal case in a city the ex-president has called home for decades. At a time of deep political divisions, the indictments are likely to bolster the dueling prospects of those who feel accountability is long overdue and those who, like Trump, believe the Republican is being targeted by a Democratic prosecutor for political gain, will bolster rather than reshape .
Trump, who denies any wrongdoing and has repeatedly attacked the investigation, called the charges “political persecution” and predicted they would harm Democrats in 2024. In a statement confirming the charges, defense attorneys Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina said Trump “did not commit.” We will vigorously fight this political persecution in court.”
A spokesman for the Manhattan Attorney’s Office confirmed the charges and said prosecutors had reached out to Trump’s defense team to coordinate a surrender. Trump was ordered to surrender on Friday, but his lawyers said the Secret Service needed extra time to put in place safeguards, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The people, unable to publicly discuss security details, said Trump is expected to surrender early next week.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg left his office without comment on Thursday evening.
The case focuses on well-documented allegations from a time in 2016 when Trump’s prominent past clashed with his political ambitions. Prosecutors checked money paid for months Porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougalwho he feared would go public with claims of having had extramarital sexual encounters with him.
The timing of the indictment appeared to surprise Trump’s campaign officials after news reports said indictment was likely weeks away. The former president was at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, on Thursday and filmed an interview with a conservative commentator earlier in the day.
For a man whose presidency has been determined by one erased norm after another, the indictment establishes another unprecedented spectacle — a former president who is being fingerprinted and mugshot and then faces indictment. For security reasons, his booking is expected to be carefully choreographed to avoid crowds inside or outside the courthouse.
Prosecutors also mean that Trump must simultaneously fight for his freedom and political future while also fighting back potentially more dangerous legal threatsincluding investigations into attempts by him and his allies to reverse the 2020 election and hoarding of hundreds of classified documents.
In fact, until recently, New York was considered an unlikely contender to be the first place to prosecute Trump, who continues to face long-running investigations in Atlanta and Washington that could also result in indictments. In contrast to these investigations, the Manhattan case concerns Trump’s behavior that occurred prior to his tenure as president and is unrelated to his much-publicized efforts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.
The indictment comes as Trump seeks to regain control of the Republican Party and fend off a mob of former allies who could threaten his presidential bid. An expected leading rival in the race, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, called the prosecution “un-American” in a statement Thursday night, which specifically did not mention Trump’s name.
In filing the indictment, Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney, is taking up an unusual case investigated by two previous prosecutors, both of whom have declined to take the politically explosive step of filing Trump’s indictment. The case may also relate in part to the testimony of a key witness, Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to the hush money payments.
The fate of the probe seemed uncertain until news in early March that Bragg had invited Trump to testify before a grand jury, a signal that prosecutors were close to indictments.
Trump’s attorneys declined the invitation, but an attorney closely associated with the former president testified briefly to undermine Cohen’s credibility.
Trump himself fueled expectations of impeachment soon, issuing a statement earlier this month predicting an impending arrest and calling for protests. He didn’t reiterate that call in a new statement Thursday, but the New York City Police Department urged its 36,000 officers to be fully mobilized and ready to respond to any possible protest or riot.
Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to keep her silent about a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier after they met at a celebrity golf tournament.
Cohen was then compensated by Trump’s firm, the Trump Organization, which also rewarded the attorney with bonuses and special payments that were booked internally as legal expenses. Over several months, Cohen said the company paid him $420,000.
In early 2016, Cohen also arranged for the editor of supermarket tabloid National Enquirer to pay playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to suppress her story of a Trump affair in a journalistically dubious practice called “catch-and-kill.”
The payments to the women were intended to buy secrecy, but they backfired almost immediately when details of the deal leaked to the news media.
Federal prosecutors in New York finally charged Cohen in 2018 with violating federal campaign finance laws, arguing that the payments constituted improper aid to Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty to those charges and unrelated tax evasion and was serving time in federal prison.
Trump was embroiled in court filings because he was aware of the agreements — indirectly referred to as “Individual 1” in indictment documents — but US prosecutors were reluctant to press charges against him at the time. The Justice Department has long had a policy that prosecuting a sitting President in federal court is likely unconstitutional.
Bragg’s predecessor as district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., then began the investigation in 2019. While that investigation initially focused on the hush money payments, Vance’s prosecutors turned to other matters, including an investigation into Trump’s business practices and tax strategies.
Vance eventually accused the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer of tax fraud related to perks paid to some of the company’s top executives.
The hush money affair became known in prosecutors as the “zombie case,” with prosecutors regularly reviewing it but never deciding to press charges.
Bragg saw it differently. After the Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud in December, he brought new eyes to the long-established case, hiring longtime corporate attorney Matthew Colangelo to oversee the investigation and convening a new grand jury.
Cohen became a key witness, meeting with prosecutors nearly two dozen times, turning over emails, recordings and other evidence, and testifying before the grand jury.
Trump has long called the Manhattan investigation “the greatest witch hunt in history.” He has also lashed out at Bragg, calling the prosecutor, who is black, racist towards whites.
The criminal charges in New York are the latest salvo in a deep schism between Trump and his hometown – a reckoning for a once-favorite son who became rich and famous by building skyscrapers, socializing with celebrities and gracing the pages of the city’s tabloids.
Trump, who famously riffed in 2016 that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and “wouldn’t lose voters,” now faces threats to his freedom in a district where more than 75% of voters — many of them potential jurors – went against him in the last election.
Tucker and Long reported from Washington. Associated Press contributors Bobby Caina Calvan, Jill Colvin, and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
Source : news.yahoo.com