POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

The questions raised after former President Donald Trump’s indictment

Apr 1, 2023, 5:18 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2023, 3:08 pm

The historic indictment and related court documents against former President Donald Trump have been...

The historic indictment and related court documents against former President Donald Trump have been unsealed. (CNN)

(CNN)

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.

Though the indictment — which has been filed under seal — has yet to be unveiled, Trump and his allies have already torn into District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the grand jury’s decision, blasting it as “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”

Here’s what we know about Trump’s indictment so far.

What’s the indictment for?

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

The former president is expected to be arraigned in Manhattan criminal court next Tuesday, but the timing of the appearance remains fluid.

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 presidential election, to silence her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the affair.

Which charges are possibly at play?

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 Organization 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 allegedly 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.

The People of the State of New York against Donald J. Trump

The judge overseeing the case against Trump signed off on an order Thursday granting Bragg’s request to publicly disclose the sealed grand jury indictment.

Atop the order is the case name: The People of the State of New York against Donald J. Trump.

Judge Juan Merchan wrote in the order that the disclosure would be “in the public interest and an appropriate exercise of this Court’s discretion,” according to the document.

How did Trump respond?

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 weeks — or more — away.

The former president has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the matter and continued his attacks on Bragg and other Democrats following news of the indictment.

“I believe this Witch-Hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” the former president said in a statement Thursday. “The American people realize exactly what the Radical Left Democrats are doing here. Everyone can see it. So our Movement, and our Party — united and strong — will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden, and we are going to throw every last one of these Crooked Democrats out of office so we can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Trump’s advisers and allies have expressed concern about the former president potentially being tried in Manhattan, pointing to the borough’s predominately Democratic-voting population as a reason he will not get a fair trial.

“There is no way he gets a fair jury,” one adviser said. “What are they going to say — have you ever heard of Donald Trump? Have you been living under a rock?”

However, Trump’s attorneys are not currently considering asking for a change of venue and do not plan to make many decisions until they see the indictment.

What comes next for Trump?

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.

As for the former president’s initial court appearance, it’ll look, in some ways, like that of any other defendant, and in others, look very different.

First appearances are usually public proceedings. If an arrest of a defendant is not needed, arrangements are made with them or their lawyers for a voluntary surrender to law enforcement. With their first appearance in court, defendants are usually booked and finger-printed. And if a first appearance is also an arraignment, a plea is expected to be entered.

Trump will have to go through certain processes that any other defendant must go through when a charge has been brought against him. But Trump’s status as a former president who is currently running for the White House again will undoubtedly inject additional security and practical concerns around the next steps in his case.

Is this a unique situation?

Yes. This is the first time in American history that a current or former president has faced criminal charges.

That alone makes it historic. But Trump is currently a few months into his third White House bid, and his criminal case jolts the 2024 presidential campaign into a new phase, as the former president has vowed to keep running in the face of criminal charges.

What does this mean for him politically?

That’s one of many big questions here. So far, a number of congressional Republicans have rallied to Trump’s defense, attacking Bragg on Twitter and accusing the district attorney of a political witch hunt.

“Outrageous,” tweeted House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the Republican committee chairmen who has demanded Bragg testify before Congress about the Trump investigation.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, called the indictment “completely unprecedented” and said it is “a catastrophic escalation in the weaponization of the justice system.”

And as part of the response to the indictment, Trump and his team will be rolling out surrogates to hit Democrats, the investigation and Bragg across various forms of media as they work to shape the public narrative, according to sources close to Trump.

Can Trump still run for president even though he’s been indicted?

Yes.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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The questions raised after former President Donald Trump’s indictment