New York • A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Donald Trump over payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence allegations of an extramarital sexual encounter, his attorneys said Thursday, leading to the first criminal trial against a former U.S. President and a shock for Trump’s bid to retake the White House.
Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly attacked the investigation, called the charges “political persecution” and predicted they would harm Democrats in 2024.
The indictment is an extraordinary development after years of investigations into his business, political and personal dealings. It will likely rouse critics who say Trump lied and cheated his way to the top and embolden supporters who think the Republican is being unfairly targeted by a Democratic prosecutor.
In a statement, his attorneys, Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina, said: “He has committed no crime. We will vigorously fight this political persecution in court.”
The district attorney’s investigation focused on monies paid to pornographic actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who he feared would go public with claims of having had extramarital sexual encounters with him.
Trump was due to turn himself in to authorities next week, though details were still being worked out, said a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to discuss a matter that remained classified.
In filing the indictment, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is taking up an unusual case that had been investigated by two previous prosecutors, both of whom declined to take the politically explosive step of filing Trump’s indictment.
In the weeks leading up to the indictment, Trump blasted the investigation on social media and urged supporters to protest on his behalf, leading to tightened security around the Manhattan Criminal Court.
Reaction to news of Trump’s impeachment from political leaders and elected officials in Utah was muted Thursday afternoon.
Taking to social media, Utah Sen. Mike Lee took to his personal Twitter account to repost a story about the impeachment, adding, “This is not a good day for America.”
Utah Republican Party Chairman Carson Jorgensen said it was prudent to wait until more information about the indictment was available.
“Time will tell,” said Jorgensen. “So many times in the past people got upset just to see everything go flat, like the Steele dossier and the Muller report.”
The most vocal condemnation of the news of Trump’s impeachment came from House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.
“Given the rampant violent crime in the Democrat-controlled city, it’s chilling that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg selectively decided to focus his efforts and tax dollars on scoring political points rather than inciting and prosecuting real, aggressive criminals.” pursue. I am so grateful to live in a state that is focused on protecting our citizens and prosecuting those who pose significant risk to our communities,” Schultz said via text message.
Other prominent Utah Republicans, including Sen. Mitt Romney and Utah Senate President Stuart Adams, declined to comment.
Trump faces other potential legal dangers as he seeks to regain control of the Republican Party and fend off a mob of former allies who are seeking or likely to reject him for the presidential nomination.
The Atlanta District Attorney has been investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to interfere in the 2020 Georgia ballot count for two years. And a special counsel for the US Department of Justice is investigating Trump’s keeping of classified documents at his home in Mar-a-Lago, Fla., and his efforts to reverse his election loss.
The fate of the hush money investigation 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 linked to the former president testified briefly to undermine the credibility of Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.
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 had the editor of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer 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 for having knowledge of the agreements, 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 New York indictments 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 someone” and “wouldn’t lose voters,” now faces a threat to his freedom, or at least his reputation, in a borough with more than 75% of the Voters – many of them potential jurors – went against him in the last election.
Bryan Schott reported from Salt Lake City, Utah.
https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2023/03/30/donald-trump-has-been-indicted/ Donald Trump was impeached, becoming the first ex-president to be indicted for crimes