World

Donald Trump indicted

First US ex-president to face criminal charges

March 31, 2023
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

NEW YORK — Former US President Donald Trump has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, a historic reckoning after years of investigations into his personal, political and business dealings and an abrupt jolt to his bid to retake the White House.

The exact nature of the charges was unclear because the indictment remained under seal, but they stem from payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been investigating Trump in connection with his alleged role in a hush money payment scheme and cover-up involving adult film star Stormy Daniels that dates to the 2016 presidential election.

Prosecutors said they were working to coordinate Trump’s surrender, which could happen early next week.

For any New York defendant, poor or powerful, answering criminal charges means being fingerprinted and photographed, fielding basic questions such as name and birth date, and getting arraigned. All told defendants are typically detained for at least several hours.

There can be variations in where the different steps happen, how long they take, whether handcuffs come out and other particulars. A lot depends on the severity of the case and whether defendants arrange to turn themselves in.

But there is no playbook for booking an ex-president with US Secret Service protection. Agents are tasked with the protection of former presidents unless and until they say they don’t need it. Trump has kept his detail, so agents would need to be by his side at all times.

“This would be a unique outlier,” said Jeremy Saland, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor in Manhattan.

Prosecutors did not say whether they intended to seek prison time in the event of a conviction, a development that wouldn’t prevent Trump from seeking and assuming the presidency.

"Legally speaking, this case won't affect the 2024 presidential race," Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, said.

"If Trump wins, of course, and no sitting president can be prosecuted, so the case will have to stop. But even if Trump is convicted before the election, these charges don't disqualify him from holding public office."

Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly assailed the investigation, called the indictment “political persecution” and predicted it would damage Democrats in 2024.

In a statement confirming the charges, defense lawyers Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina said Trump “did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in court.”

Trump faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud in the indictment, CNN has reported. It remains under seal.

The investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office began when Trump was still in the White House and relates to a $130,000 payment made by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to Daniels in late October 2016, days before the 2016 presidential election, to silence her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the affair.

A target in the probe has been the payment made to Daniels and the Trump Organization’s reimbursement to Cohen.

According to court filings when Cohen faced federal criminal charges, Trump Org. executives authorized payments to him totaling $420,000 to cover his original $130,000 payment and tax liabilities and reward him with a bonus. The company noted the reimbursements as a legal expense in its internal books. Trump has denied knowledge of the payment.

Hush money payments aren’t illegal. Ahead of the indictment, prosecutors were weighing whether to charge Trump with falsifying the business records of the Trump Organization for how it reflected the reimbursement of the payment to Cohen, who said he advanced the money to Daniels. Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor in New York.

Prosecutors were also weighing whether to charge Trump with falsifying business records in the first degree for falsifying a record with the intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal another crime, which in this case could be a violation of campaign finance laws. That is a Class E felony and carries a sentence of a minimum of one year and as much as four years. To prove the case, prosecutors would need to show Trump intended to commit a crime.

Trump was caught off guard by the grand jury’s decision to indict him, according to a person who spoke directly with him. While the former president was bracing for an indictment last week, he began to believe news reports that a potential indictment was at least weeks away.

The former president has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the matter.

The former president had first been asked to surrender Friday in New York, his lawyer said, but his defense said more time was needed and he’s expected in court on Tuesday. — Agencies


March 31, 2023
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