Why Trump Was Indicted

Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2023, while en route to West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By Keya Vakil

March 30, 2023

A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Donald Trump for his role in a $130,000 payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the days leading up to the 2016 election. 

Former President Donald Trump was indicted on felony charges on Thursday in conjunction with allegations that he secretly paid “hush money” to an adult film star in order to cover up an affair. 

A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump for his role in the $130,000 payment, which was made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the days leading up to the 2016 election. 

Trump is the first president to ever be indicted and the case against him in Manhattan is the first of many potential charges against him. The New York Times and CNN first reported Trump’s indictment. Here’s what else you need to know about the situation: 

What is Trump accused of?

Prosecutors with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office allege that Trump used his former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, as a conduit to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in “hush money” in the days leading up to the 2016 election, at a time when Trump was already facing immense blowback for his remarks about sexually assaulting women on the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape. 

The payment to Daniels was kept secret and only became public after Cohen pled guilty to federal campaign finance violations in August 2018, admitting he arranged the payment to Daniels to help Trump’s campaign at the candidate’s request. 

Cohen said that Trump reimbursed him for the payment and records of Trump’s payment to Cohen state that the payments were for “legal expenses.” Prosecutors allege this represents a falsification of business records, which is a crime in New York.

They argue that because the payment was made in order to prevent Daniels from going public and hurting Trump’s campaign, that it constitutes a form of campaign spending, which, under election laws, must be reported and made public.

Even Trump’s own lawyer, Joe Tacopina, once agreed that the investigation into a possible campaign finance violation is “fair game” and that Trump’s actions were “illegal”—or at least that’s what he said when he was asked about it in 2018, before he was Trump’s attorney.

What was Trump charged with?

The specific charges Trump faces remain unclear, as the indictment remains under seal by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The charges are officially expected to be announced in the coming days, while prosecutors working for Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg work to negotiate Trump’s surrender and arraignment.

When did the alleged affair occur?

Daniels says the two had sex in Trump’s hotel room after a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe in 2006. 

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and says he never had an affair with Daniels, but she shared this story with In Touch magazine in 2011, long before Trump ever ran for president. The interview did not run, however, after Cohen pressured the magazine to kill the story. In Touch only published it after news of the hush money payments became public in 2018. 

Was Trump’s indictment a surprise?

No. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office had been signaling for months that it would charge Trump, offering him the chance to testify before a grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the potential case. 

How has Trump reacted?

Trump—who is the polling favorite for the 2024 Republican nomination—initially described the indictment as “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”

In a post made to Truth Social shortly after his initial statement, he went one step further, calling it “AN ATTACK ON OUR COUNTRY THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE.”

Trump previously predicted that he’d be arrested, though he got the timeframe wrong. Earlier this month, Trump called for his supporters to “protest” his impending indictment, much like he did in the weeks leading up the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

“TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” Trump wrote on his site, Truth Social, on March 18. A few dozen protesters gathered in Manhattan days later, but were outnumbered by reporters. 

In another post on Truth Social, Trump warned of “potential death & destruction” if he was charged and called Bragg a “degenerate psychopath” for daring to investigate him. 

Like they did in the lead-up to Jan. 6, Trump’s comments have incited his most loyal and extreme followers to action.

NBC News reported last week that Bragg received a letter and white powder, which police determined was not dangerous. The accompanying letter, however, was a death threat, reading: “ALVIN: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Trump supporters have issued similar threats against Bragg in online forums, threatening to go in “guns blazing” and start a Civil War if Trump is arrested. “I want every traitor hanging from a rope when all this ends. EVERY TRAITOR. They can all die,” one person wrote in an online forum used by Trump supporters.

According to NBC, users on pro-trump forum TheDonald have also threatened to “blow up” the DA’s office.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York) blasted Trump for his increasingly dangerous rhetoric. 

“The twice-impeached former president’s rhetoric is reckless, reprehensible and irresponsible,” House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said at a news conference last week. “It’s dangerous. And if he keeps it up, he’s going to get someone killed.”

“We’ve already seen the consequences of incitement from the former president,” Jeffries added. “He is principally responsible for inciting the violent insurrection that happened on January 6th, but clearly he has not learned his lesson.”

How did other Republican politicians react to the indictment?

Pretty much like you’d expect. Let’s take a look:

Live reactions are still pouring in, but in the weeks preceding Trump’s indictment, most Republican politicians were quick to fall in line, criticizing the investigation and threatening payback against Bragg, rather than letting the criminal justice process play out and let Trump have his day in court. 

House Republicans, who are some of Trump’s most devoted allies, even demanded Bragg turn over records from his investigation and testify before them, an extraordinarily unusual request that experts say represents a misuse of congressional power. 

Republicans have accused Bragg of misusing his authority to investigate Trump, but as legal experts like Laurence Tribe have pointed out, Trump is now an ordinary citizen, and indicting him when the law and facts warrant charges “shouldn’t be seen as unprecedented, much less earth-shattering.”

“What would shatter our legal system and the republic it sustains [would] be to extend presidential immunity beyond his term of office,” Tribe added.

Trump’s most likely opponent in the 2024 Republican primary, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, took a not-so-veiled swipe at the former president earlier this month even as he denounced the investigation.

“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis told reporters. 

What do Republican voters think about the situation?

It depends how you ask them.

A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that 73% of Republicans agree that it’s “a crime for a candidate for elected office to pay someone to remain silent about an issue that may affect the outcome of an election.” Seventy-six percent of Republicans also agree it would be a crime “to fail to report” such spending. Neither question mentions Trump by name.

But when the poll asked voters the same question in the context of the allegations against Trump, the numbers shifted dramatically. 

YouGov asked how “serious an issue is it that an adult film star was paid $130,000 in October 2016 to remain silent about an alleged sexual encounter” she had with Trump. 

Only 15% of Republicans said this was a “very serious issue,” while more than half said it was “not very serious” or “not serious at all.”

Will Trump actually be convicted?

It’s unclear. If prosecutors can prove that Trump knowingly falsified the business records documenting his reimbursal payment to Cohen in order to aid another crime, such as Cohen’s campaign finance violation, that would be a felony. 

How will this impact Trump’s 2024 campaign?

The charges won’t legally prevent Trump from being able to run, and he’s shown no signs that he plans on dropping out and instead appears ready to wage war on Bragg and anyone else investigating him. If anything, Trump is likely to ratchet up his baseless claims of a deep state “witch hunt” against him, despite ample evidence of his wrongdoing. 

Author

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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