A New York grand jury voted Thursday to indict former President Donald Trump in connection with a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election, his lawyer told CNBC.
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina told NBC News that Trump is expected to surrender to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office early next week.
Trump is the first former president to be charged with a crime, a development that will reverberate around the country. The indictment comes as he is the leading contender seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had yet to officially announce the charges as of early Thursday evening.
Trump blasted the decision, calling it “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.” Just Wednesday, he had said in a social media post that he had “gained such respect for this grand jury.”
The charge stems from the district attorney’s investigation into how the Trump Organization recorded a reimbursement to Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen after Cohen paid Daniels, who’s also known as Stephanie Clifford, to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter she says she had with Trump in 2006.
Follow our live coverage of the New York grand jury vote to indict former President Donald Trump.
Trump was filming his TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” at the time of that purported tryst, and was married to his current wife, Melania Trump, who had given birth to their son, Barron, a few months earlier.
The Trump Organization in business records described the reimbursement to Cohen as a legal expense.
Falsifying business records is normally a misdemeanor under New York law, but can be elevated to a felony if the misstatement was done to cover up another crime.
Trump denies having sex with Daniels or committing wrongdoing of any kind.
“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” Trump said in a statement. “The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable — indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference.”
Tacopina and another Trump lawyer, Susan Nechele, said: “President Trump has been indicted. He did not commit any crime.”
“We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in Court,” the defense lawyers said.
The indictment, which will be prosecuted by Bragg’s office, is the first in what could end up being several criminal cases against Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump is also under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in two separate criminal cases. One is related to his efforts to overturn the Electoral College victory of President Joe Biden in the 2020 election as he made false claims of widespread ballot fraud in the popular vote that year. The other probe is focused on Trump’s removal of government records from the White House, and whether he obstructed justice by keeping them at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, for more than a year as government officials sought their return.
A state prosecutor in Atlanta is also separately investigating Trump and a number of his allies over their attempt to get Georgia officials to reverse his loss to Biden in the state in 2020.
Former US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Waco, Texas, on Saturday, March 25, 2023.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images
Cohen, in a statement to NBC News, said: “For the first time in our Country’s history, a President (current or former) of the United States has been indicted. I take no pride in issuing this statement and wish to also remind everyone of the presumption of innocence; as provided by the due process clause.”
“However, I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former President,” Cohen said. “Today’s indictment is not the end of this chapter; but rather, just the beginning. Now that the charges have been filed, it is better for the case to let the indictment speak for itself. The two things I wish to say at this time is that accountability matters and I stand by my testimony and the evidence I have provided to” the Manhattan district attorney, he said.
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The Manhattan prosecution of Trump comes more than four years after Cohen, who loyally served him for years before that, turned on Trump and began cooperating with federal, state and local law enforcement officials in New York.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal criminal charges that included campaign finance violations for both the Daniels payment and a separate payment he facilitated to Playboy model Karen McDougal to buy her silence over an affair she said she started with Trump in 2006.
The Federal Election Commission in 2021 fined the publisher of The National Enquirer $187,500 for “knowingly and willfully” violating campaign law by paying McDougal a $150,000 “catch and kill” fee to buy her story and bury it ahead of the 2016 election.
Michael Cohen, former attorney for former U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives to the New York Courthouse in New York City, U.S., March 13, 2023.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters
Cohen said the payments were designed to protect Trump’s chances in that election, when he faced Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump escaped punishment from the FEC.
Cohen met 20 times with investigators from the DA’s office before testifying over two days last week before the grand jury in Manhattan Criminal Court. That panel began meeting in late January and heard testimony from multiple witnesses before Cohen.
Trump and a number of Republican elected officials have accused Bragg, who is a Democrat, of pursuing the investigation to harm him politically.
Bragg’s focus on the payment to Daniels in recent months came as a surprise, as it was considered by many to be the weakest possible criminal case against Trump in a probe that began four years ago under Bragg’s predecessor as DA, Cyrus Vance Jr.
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels speaks US Federal Court with her lawyer Michael Avenatti (R) on April 16, 2018, in Lower Manhattan, New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | AFP | Getty Images
In February 2022, two top prosecutors who were working on the investigation quit after Bragg indicated he was suspending the probe.
At the time, that investigation was focused on Cohen’s allegations that Trump and the Trump Organization reported different values for the same real estate properties to lower their tax burden and insurance costs and to maximize the value of loans against them, among other things.
One of the prosecutors, Mark Pomerantz, in his resignation letter said Trump was “guilty of numerous felony violations,” which related to the “preparation and use of his annual Statements of Financial Condition,” which “were false.”
Attorney General Letitia James in September filed a civil lawsuit seeking at least $250 million in penalties from Trump, his company, and three of his adult children, alleging widespread fraud in financial statements.
James’ lawsuit, which is headed to trial later this year, seeks to permanently bar Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump from serving as an officer of a company in New York and permanently prohibit the Trump companies named in the suit from doing business in New York state.
In December, a Manhattan jury convicted two subsidiaries of the Trump Organization of multiple crimes related to a scheme that since 2005 had sought to avoid paying taxes on executive compensation in the form of perks including free apartments and luxury cars to then-chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.
Trump was not personally charged in that case, but he “knew exactly what was going on,” a prosecutor said in closing arguments in Manhattan Supreme Court.
The Trump subsidiaries convicted in the case were fined $1.6 million for the scheme in January at sentencing.
Weisselberg, who had pleaded guilty in that case in August, was sentenced in January to five months in jail. He is scheduled to be released from the notorious Rikers Island jail on April 19, which factors in time off his sentence for good behavior.