Donald Trump with Stephanie Clifford (“Stormy Daniels”) in 2006
UPDATE, APR 1:
The New York Times adds detail on the investigation leading up to Thursday’s indictment of Donald Trump on felony charges.
Just over a year ago, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg appeared to have halted the examination Trump’s tax and business matter. Two lead prosecutors left the investigation when Bragg decided not to charge Trump.
But the District Attorney had not suspended the inquiry. Instead, staff went back through the mass of evidence. Rather than pursuit charges over Trump lying about his net worth, they focused on the $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels in October 2016.
An experienced lawyer from the Justice Department was brought in to help lead the team, and other attorneys joined from the office’s Major Economic Crimes Bureau. Testimony from key witnesses — including Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen — was re-evaluated.
In August 2022, another part of the investigation succeeded with the guilty plea of the Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg over illegal receipt of benefits from the company.
Less than four months later, the Trump Organization was convicted on 17 felony charges, including tax fraud and falsifying business
records. The company was fined $1.6 million — the maximum allowed — and Weisselberg, who testified in the trial, was given a 5-month sentence.
Bolstered by the success and by the weight of evidence over the hush-money case, the District Attorney’s office moved to empanel the grand jury. The first witnesses testified in late January, beginning with David Pecker — the National Enquirer publisher who brokered payments to Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal over their sexual encounters with Trump.
CNN adds that the indictment was held up for a few days because of the testimony of a Trump ally, lawyer Robert Costello, on March 20.
In an unusual move — grand juries normally only hear witnesses for the prosecution’s case — the District Attorney’s office reached out to the Trump camp and suggested that Trump might want to testify before the grand jury voted on charges. Costello was sent instead, spending much of his time trying to tear down the reputation of Michael Cohen.
Prosecutors postponed the grand jury meeting on March 21 and spent the rest of the week considering the response to Costello’s testimony. They decided to bring back Pecker and another, as yet unnamed, witness.
UPDATE, MAR 31:
A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Donald Trump on a felony charge on Thursday, according to “four people with knowledge of the matter“.
The case arises from Trump’s payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels, weeks before the 2016 Presidential election, to maintain silence over their sexual encounters 10 years earlier.
The felony indictment, filed under seal by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, will be announced in the coming days. The exact charges — the first filed against a former President in US history — have not been revealed. However, reports are circulating that Trump could face up to 30 counts of business fraud.
A spokesperson for Manhattan District Alvin Bragg said in a statement: “This evening we contacted Mr Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan DA’s Office for arraignment on a supreme court indictment, which remains under seal.Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.
The arraignment is expected next Tuesday. Before then, prosecutors will ask Trump to surrender. He will be fingerprinted, photographed, and told that he has the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.
It is standard practice for defendants arrested on felony charges to be handcuffed, but it is unclear whether an exception will be made for Trump.
With a Trump tweet on March 19 calling on his supporters to protest if he was indicted — and with his previous instigations of violent and armed gatherings, from invasions of State legislatures during the Coronavirus pandemic to the Capitol Attack in January 2021 — all of New York’s police force has been instructed report for duty on Friday and to be prepared to deal with “unusual disorder”.
Prosecutors filed the indictment two minutes before the close of the business day. Trump’s team, despite his lawyers having been told earlier this month to expect a grand jury decision, were reportedly caught off guard.
Within two hours, Trump responded with his standard tactic of gaslighting: trying to divert from his responsibility and the legal process by blaming and insulting others.
He repeated his attack line that the case is a “political prosecution”, using language from the Trump-Russia affair to his blackmail of Ukraine to his two impeachments to his multiple civil and criminal cases, including over his business practices, his election interference, and the Capitol Attack.
“I believe this witch hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” he said in the statement. “Our movement, and our party – united and strong – will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden.”
The Trump camp tried to seize advantage with fund-raising for his 2024 Presidential campaign. It sent out an e-mail proclaiming “the darkest chapter in American history”.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the need to sustain the legal process, avoiding the attempts to discredit and bury it through the gaslighting of Trump and his allies.
There should be no outside political influence, intimidation or interference in the case. I encourage both Mr Trump’s critics and supporters to let the process proceed peacefully and according to the law.
Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who led the House case against Trump in his two impeachments, said: “The indictment of a former president is unprecedented. But so too is the unlawful conduct in which Trump has been engaged.”
But some leading Republicans, long backing Trump or co-dependent on his political and legal position, again took up his “political prosecution” line. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy attacked the judicial system, saying District Attorney Bragg had “irreparably damaged our country”.
“The House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account,” he tweeted.
Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence also assailed a a “two-tiered” US justice system, saying the indictment sent a “terrible message” to the world.
Pence, who is likely to run for President in 2024, would not say whether Trump should drop out of race for the Republican nomination if he is convicted: “I don’t want to talk about hypotheticals.”
Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis, also running for the GOP nomination,a also claimed the legal system was being “weaponized”.
Those involved in the case commented on the developments.
Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, said she didn’t “want to spill her champagne”.
Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who made the payoff and who testified before the grand jury, said::
This is his [Trump’s] biggest fear, that he will be mug-shotted, that he will have an F [for felon] next to his name. This is not what Trump imagined for himself.
In addition to Cohen’s testimony, former White House aides Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway and Jeffrey McConney, Senior Vice-President and Controller of the Trump Organization have spoken with prosecutors.
The grand jury also heard from David Pecker, the publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper, who paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 about her 10-month affair with Trump and then killed the story.
ORIGINAL ENTRY, MARCH 19: Donald Trump may be indicted as early as Tuesday on a financial felony charge.
A Manhattan grand jury has been hearing the prosecutor’s case that Trump covered up a $130,000 payment in October 2016, weeks before the US Presidential electionto adult film star Stormy Daniels. The money was to ensure that Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — did not reveal sexual encounters in 2006 with Trump, 18 months after he and Melania Knauss were married and four months after their son Barron was born.
The payment from Trump Organization accounts, made through Trump’s lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, was disguised as a “legal expense”.
Prosecutors indicated earlier this month that Trump could be indicted, recommending to his lawyers that the reality TV star appear before the grand jury to give his version of events.
Trump has declined so far. A final witness is reportedly being heard by the grand jury soon.
Trump’s Dog-Whistle Call To Supporters and GOP Politicians
Trump posted on Saturday morning on his platform Truth Social, “THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE AND FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”.
A spokesman said two hours later that Trump had no direct knowledge of any indictment and arrest, insisting that he was “rightfully highlighting his innocence and the weaponization of our injustice system”.
“One person with knowledge of the matter” said Trump’s advisors guessed that the indictment could be released Tuesday, and someone relayed their assessment to him. Trump lawyer Susan Necheles said the Truth Social post was based on news reports.
But the exact timing was secondary to Trump’s attempt to control the narrative. He was already having an effect through headlines in newspapers and across the Internet, with his demand for loyalty accepted by leading Republican politicians.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted that he was calling for investigations into whether federal funds were being used for “politically motivated prosecutions”.
Despite a likely run for the Presidency in 2024, Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence — who had begun to criticize Trump’s incitement of the Capitol Attack in January 2021 — also fell into line.
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking Republican in the House, repeated the “political persecution line”. However, other prominent hard-right Trumpists — notably Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia — did not support the call for protests.
“Here we go again. Another politically charged prosecution against the former president of the United States,” he told reporters in Iowa.
On Friday night, Trump’s campaign announced a forthcoming rally in Waco, Texas. Early Saturday evening, Trump attended university wrestling championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was greeted with cheers and chants of “USA! USA!” Inside the arena, Mr. Trump shook hands with supporters, posed for selfies with audience members, and met some of the wrestlers.