NEW YORK – Donald Trump has become the first former U.S. president to be charged with a crime, the culmination of a political rise defined by unprecedented scandal.
The vote of a Manhattan grand jury to indict the Republican former president on charges related to hush money payments made on his behalf during his 2016 presidential campaign catapults the now-candidate Trump into a new era of legal risk and complicates his attempts to return to the White House.
Here's what to know about the indictment and the case:
THE FORMER PRESIDENT COULD HAVE A CRIMINAL RECORD
Trump now faces threats to his freedom after decades of legal investigations that have never resulted in serious consequences.
The Manhattan district attorney's office said Thursday that prosecutors had reached out to Trump's lawyers to arrange for him to surrender, which could happen early next week. Trump is expected to appear at the prosecutor's office to be processed and fingerprinted and have a mug shot taken. He is also expected to appear in court, when a judge would list the charges and Trump would enter a plea.
He will have to contend with a criminal case while running again for the White House, taking time and attention away from the campaign trail — though neither the case nor a conviction would preclude him from seeking or winning the presidency in 2024.
The indictment comes as he is facing several other investigations that could lead to legal problems for the former president. Those pending cases, along with a civil trial that's scheduled to start in New York next month over a columnist’s claims that Trump raped her in the 1990s, add to an ever-growing cloud of scandals surrounding him.
CASE STEMS FROM HUSH MONEY PAID TO WOMEN
The grand jury in Manhattan had been probing hush money payments at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who alleged sexual encounters with the former president. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, one of the witnesses who testified, says he orchestrated payments totaling $280,000 to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments. Federal prosecutors said the payments amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign. But they declined to file charges against Trump himself.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office appeared to be investigating whether anyone committed crimes in arranging the payments, or in the way they accounted for them internally at the Trump Organization. But the specific charges remained under seal late Thursday.
TRUMP MAINTAINS HIS INNOCENCE
Trump, who denies the sexual encounters, called the indictment “political persecution” and an attempt to interfere in his presidential campaign.
Calling himself “a completely innocent person,” he cast the indictment as the latest in a line of actions that he says are designed to “destroy” his Make America Great Again movement, including his two presidential impeachments and the FBI search of his home that turned up classified documents.
“The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’” he said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Trump said his arrest was imminent and called on his supporters to protest. Last week, he warned about “potential death and destruction” if he were charged. His words evoked his comments ahead of the violent Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Trump did not repeat his call to protest Thursday, but police forces around the country are on guard for potential unrest.
OTHER INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE
Beyond the Manhattan case, Trump is facing an array of other investigations.
On the federal level, the Justice Department is investigating the retention of top-secret government documents at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, and efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
The efforts by many of the same players in the latter case were also the subject of a special grand jury investigation in Georgia. The panel's foreperson said the special grand jury recommended multiple criminal indictments, leaving it up to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, a Democrat, to decide whether to convene a regular grand jury and pursue criminal charges.
With many serious cases looming around the other investigations, some legal experts have questioned the wisdom of the Manhattan case becoming the first to result in charges.
TRUMP’S RIVALS CONDEMN INDICTMENT
Trump has said the charges would actually help him in the 2024 presidential race and has tried to use the case to galvanize support. Last weekend, at the first rally of the campaign, he cast the Manhattan investigation and the other probes as the latest in a long line of political attacks against him. His campaign handed out signs that said “Witch Hunt” as Trump told his supporters that the legal challenges were also an attack on his followers and his political movement.
Some Republican and independent voters could see the case, at the very least, as another example of problematic baggage that has followed Trump for years and has been a distraction. The news was expected to only fortify existing Democratic opposition to Trump.
Republicans who are running against Trump or who are considering their own campaigns were quick to rally to criticize the case and attack Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, even if they didn't address the underlying allegations against Trump.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a campaign and is seen as Trump’s top rival for the GOP nomination, called the indictment “un-American.” Former Vice President Mike Pence, also considering a challenge to Trump in 2024, called the indictment “an outrage."
GOP LAWMAKERS TARGET PROSECUTOR
Republicans framed the arrest as a political prosecution by a rogue Democratic district attorney who they said was weaponizing the criminal justice system.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the House “will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account.”
Some of Trump's fiercest supporters came to his defense. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, two names floated as potential Trump running mates, said he’s innocent.
BIDEN, DEMOCRATS HAVE LITTLE TO SAY
Democrats were less vocal in the hours after the indictment became known, but some of the former president's critics have framed the case as a long-overdue dose of accountability.
President Joe Biden, who is expected to announce he’s running for reelection next year, has not commented on the indictment.
The Democratic National Committee did not comment on the specifics of the case but sought to yoke the entire GOP to Trump.
“No matter what happens in Trump’s upcoming legal proceedings, it’s obvious the Republican Party remains firmly in the hold of Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans,” DNC National Press Secretary Ammar Moussa said in a statement.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said: “Mr. Trump is subject to the same laws as every American. He will be able to avail himself of the legal system and a jury, not politics, to determine his fate according to the facts and the law.”
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., did not immediately comment, though some lesser-known House members welcomed the news.
“I continue to believe that every American elected official and leader should be held fully accountable for their actions and crimes,” said Rep. Harley Rouda of California.
“Finally, today, Donald Trump’s chickens have come home to roost,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, who represents a safe district in Arizona. But his fellow Arizonan, Rep. Ruben Gallego, who is running for the Senate, was more measured: “We should wait to hear from the grand jury before jumping to conclusions.”
Cooper reported from Phoenix.