Donald Trump has been indicted. Here’s what happens next.
A Manhattan grand jury voted Thursday to indict former President Donald Trump in connection to hush money payments to the porn actress Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign, according to multiple news reports. He is the first former US president to be charged with a crime.
It’s not clear exactly what the charges are yet, though previous reports have indicated he’d be charged with falsification of business records to cover up a crime. The indictment was filed under seal, and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is expected to announce the charges in the coming days.
A spokesperson for the office said in a statement Thursday that Trump’s attorney had been contacted to request that he surrender to their office for arraignment and that the office would provide further guidance once an arraignment date had been selected. The New York Times reported that Trump is expected to turn himself in as early as Tuesday.
Michael Cohen, a former lawyer for the Trump Organization and the star witness in the case, who paid Daniels $130,000 to stay silent about her relationship with Trump, suggested in a statement Thursday that he wanted to see Trump held to account. Cohen stood by his testimony and the evidence he provided to the prosecutor’s office, but also urged the public to give the former president the “presumption of innocence.”
“I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former President,” he 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.”
It might be only the first of several indictments to drop. Trump is also facing probes into his business dealings, interference in the 2020 election in Georgia, withholding of classified documents after he left office, and his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection.
How have Trump and the GOP reacted?
In a statement Thursday, Trump called the indictment “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” framing it as another partisan “Witch Hunt” and compared it to his two impeachments and the FBI raid on his home at Mar-a-Lago to retrieve classified documents. Trump also took aim at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who pushed the case, and urged his supporters to throw Democrats out of office, using it as an opportunity to fundraise.
“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,” he wrote.
MAGA-world figures rushed to Trump’s defense Thursday. His son Eric Trump called it “third world prosecutorial misconduct.” Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state, warned that it was “undermining America’s confidence in our legal system.”
And Trump’s opponents in the 2024 Republican primary rallied behind him. Right-wing activist Vivek Ramaswamy, who announced his candidacy in February, called the indictment “politically motivated” and marking a “dark moment in American history.” And Nikki Haley, Trump’s former US ambassador to the United Nations who called for a “new generation of leadership” in her 2024 announcement video, said that the indictment was more about “revenge than it is about justice.”
Though Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not formally announced his 2024 candidacy, he is widely considered to be the top challenger to Trump. He previously took a shot at Trump over the case, suggesting in a news conference earlier this month that he couldn’t relate to being accused of “paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.” But he still accused Bragg Thursday of turning “rule of law on its head” and “stretching the law to target a political opponent.”
The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head.
It is un-American.
The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is…
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) March 30, 2023
What was Trump indicted for? And how strong is the case against him?
As of now, we do not know what the specific charges against Trump will be. But this case could potentially spark as much debate within the appellate courts as it will in the press and in the public.
As a 2021 report by the Brookings Institution explains, Trump’s payments to Stormy Daniels could violate a New York law governing false business records. According to the report, criminal charges could arise out of “any mischaracterization of hush payment reimbursements and of fringe benefits in the Trump Organization’s bookkeeping.”
Bragg’s office was reportedly investigating Trump’s payment to Daniels under a felony statute that prohibits falsifying certain business records. So there are outward signs that Bragg may be pursuing the same legal theory laid out by the Brookings report.
Under that statute, Trump could potentially be charged with a crime if he faked or destroyed such a record to cover up the payment to Daniels. But even if Bragg can prove that, the felony statute also requires him to prove that Trump did so “to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.”
That may seem like a light lift, because Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to a federal campaign finance violation related to this Daniels payment. But it is also unclear whether New York law permits Bragg to link Trump to a federal crime in this indictment, as opposed to connecting Trump to a second violation of New York’s own criminal laws.
“No appellate court in New York” has ever decided whether a defendant can be charged with a felony for falsifying a business record to cover up a federal crime, according to a book by Mark Pomerantz, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office.
Of course, the grand jury could have voted to indict Trump on additional, or completely separate, charges. The formal legal documents laying out the specific allegations against Trump are not yet public.
Who is Stormy Daniels?
Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claims that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in his hotel room in Lake Tahoe in 2006 after meeting him at a charity golf tournament. That was after Trump married his current wife, Melania Trump, who at that point had just given birth.
Trump has long denied that the encounter occurred. While he has acknowledged that he reimbursed Cohen for paying off Daniels to keep her quiet, he said in 2018 that was just to prevent her from publicly making “false and extortionist accusations.”
Daniels later said in a 60 Minutes interview that she accepted the money because she was worried about her and her daughter’s safety, recounting how she was approached by a strange man who told her to “leave Trump alone” after she had agreed to a magazine interview about the encounter. But she only went public with the story in 2018. She claimed then that the hush money agreement was null and void because Trump never signed it.
What happens next? Will Trump be arrested? Will Trump go to jail?
Once Trump submits himself to the DA’s office and faces arraignment, he’ll appear in court to hear the charges against him and submit a plea. He has reportedly expressed enthusiasm at the idea of being taken away in handcuffs in front of cameras, seemingly believing that he can turn the situation to his political advantage. But that probably won’t happen; the Secret Service will reportedly coordinate with law enforcement to quietly bring him to New York.
Trump voluntarily meeting with law enforcement will also save DeSantis facing pressure to turn in the former president: The Florida governor said that he would not abide by any extradition request to return Trump, who has been hunkering down in Mar-a-Lago, to New York to face the charges.
Trump will likely be released shortly after his arraignment, given that he doesn’t pose any flight risk as a presidential candidate. But he would likely be processed just like anyone else accused of a crime: He would be photographed, fingerprinted, and instructed of his right to remain silent.
We don’t yet know the charges in the case, which makes it difficult to ascertain what the minimum sentence might be or whether he might have to serve prison time at all if convicted.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.