Trump indicted by Manhattan grand jury

[anvplayer video=”5170371″ station=”998131″]

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A grand jury in New York City voted Thursday to indict Donald Trump — the first time a former U.S. president has faced criminal charges.

The historic indictment comes in a case centered on $130,000 in payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels claimed she slept with the married Trump in 2006, a claim he has denied. Trump had classified his reimbursement of the payout as a legal expense.

A spokesperson for the Manhattan DA’s office confirmed the indictment in a statement Thursday night.

“This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a [state] Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal,” the spokesperson said. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.” (Supreme Court is the name of New York state’s highest trial court.)

Trump attorney Susan Necheles told NBC News that Trump, who lives in Florida, is expected to be arraigned Tuesday. He is expected to surrender to the Manhattan DA’s office, Trump attorney Joe Tacopina said earlier Thursday.

“President Trump has been indicted. He did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in Court,” Necheles and Tacopina said in a joint statement.

The tentative plan is for Trump to appear before acting Justice Juan Merchan after 2:15 p.m. Tuesday for his felony arraignment, two officials familiar with the matter said. Merchan presided over the DA’s successful tax fraud prosecution of Trump’s company last year.

The exact charge or charges are unknown because indictments are typically filed in court under seal after a grand jury’s vote in New York.

Manhattan District Attorney Bragg was known to be focusing on a felony charge of falsifying business records. That charge carries a maximum prison sentence of four years.

Trump blasted the news in a statement Thursday evening.

“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” Trump said in a statement. “The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable — indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference.”

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing related to the probe, and he has called the investigation by Bragg’s office a continuation of the partisan “witch hunt” against him. He has also accused Bragg, a Democrat who is Black, of being a “racist.”

Trump said this month that he’d be arrested on March 21 and issued a call on his social media website, Truth Social, for his supporters to “PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!” In recent days, he has ratcheted up his rhetoric, warning last week of “potential death & destruction” if he were indicted.

Security was ramped up earlier Thursday in the area where the grand jury was meeting. New York police, FBI and court officers are expected to coordinate security for Trump’s appearance at the courthouse with the Secret Service, which provides protection to all former presidents.

The coordination will include conversations about the transportation and security needs for Trump to comply with the legal process, officials said.

Trump has said he has no plans to drop out of the 2024 presidential race even if he were indicted. “Absolutely not,” he told reporters at an event this month.

Immediate reaction to his indictment split along party lines, with congressional Republicans accusing Bragg of prosecutorial abuse and Democrats hailing the grand jury’s decision as showing no one is above the law.

“The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on Twitter.

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. There should be no outside political influence, intimidation or interference in the case.”

The White House referred questions about the indictment to the Democratic National Committee, where a spokesperson said, “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.”

Trump’s 2024 opponents and likely rivals for the nomination were quick to come to his defense Thursday. Former Vice President Mike Pence told CNN the indictment was an “outrage,” while Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called it “un-American” and a “weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the first major GOP candidate to enter the race after Trump announced his bid, tweeted, “This is more about revenge than it is about justice.”

The indictment comes after years of investigation by the district attorney’s office, which charged two companies that are part of the Trump Organization with a 15-year tax fraud scheme. The companies were found guilty last year and ordered to pay more than $1.6 million in penalties and fines.

A key witness in the current case is Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer.

Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in 2018 to making the illegal payment to Daniels for the “principal purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential election and said he did so at Trump’s direction. He was sentenced to three years in prison for that and other crimes.

Trump has acknowledged that he repaid Cohen the $130,000 but maintained the payment was legal. Trump tweeted in 2018 that the money was “not from the campaign” and that the deal had been “a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA.”

“The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair … despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair,” Trump said on Twitter at the time.

Court filings from federal prosecutors in Cohen’s case show he was paid the money back through payments coordinated through the Trump Organization.

“The Company accounted for these payments as legal expenses,” the filing said, even though “there was no such retainer agreement, and the monthly invoices Cohen submitted were not in connection with any legal services he had provided in 2017.”

Trump was never charged in the probe headed by the Justice Department he oversaw at the time, but in court filings in Cohen’s case, investigators said they believed he was closely involved with payment.

They noted the money was paid as Trump was dealing with the fallout from leaked audio from the show “Access Hollywood,” in which he said he liked to kiss and grope “beautiful women.” “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything,” he was recorded saying.

The FBI court filing said that “in the days following the Access Hollywood video, Cohen exchanged a series of calls, text messages and emails with Keith Davidson, who was then [Daniels’] attorney, David Pecker and Dylan Howard of American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, Trump, and Hope Hicks, who was then press secretary for Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Trump and Cohen also spoke the day he wired the money to Daniels’ attorney and the day the deal was finalized, the FBI filing said.

AMI cooperated with the federal investigation into Cohen and acknowledged having paid another woman, Playboy model Karen McDougal, $150,000 to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump to help his campaign. The U.S. attorney’s office said the publisher admitted making the payment “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign.”

Tacopina, one of Trump’s attorneys, told MSNBC’s Ari Melber this month that the records weren’t falsified, because the money went to Trump’s then-lawyer Cohen and therefore was a legal expense. “It’s not a crime,” Tacopina said.

Cohen met repeatedly with prosecutors after the grand jury began hearing evidence in January, and Hicks was seen leaving a meeting with prosecutors this month. Pecker testified before the grand jury Monday and is believed to be the last witness the panel heard from before it voted to indict Trump.

Prosecutors had offered Trump a chance to voluntarily testify before the grand jury this month — a sign the investigation was in its final stages — but he declined the offer. “We are not convinced they will bring a case, but if so we will deal with it,” Tacopina said when Trump was weighing how to proceed.

State prosecutors in Manhattan had for years eyed the falsified business records as part of a larger investigation into Trump, with a former member of the team telling MSNBC this year there were concerns internally about the strength of the “zombie” case.

“You need the intent to commit or conceal another crime to raise the offense of a falsified business record to a felony from a misdemeanor,” the former prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, told Rachel Maddow last month.

“When we first looked at it, we saw, gee, there’s a real risk here, a legal risk that if we bring felony charges, they’ll be reduced to misdemeanors, and we’re investigating a whole slew, as you mentioned, of other felony charges. So the first time in my tenure when this came up, we took the decision [of] let’s table the hush money situation,” Pomerantz said.

“We referred to it in the office internally as the ‘zombie case,’ because it arose from the dead, went back into slumber, rose from the dead, and this happened a number of times,” he added.

Trump is also the subject of at least three other criminal probes. Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether he and his allies coordinated attempts to alter the outcome of the election in the state.

Special counsel Jack Smith, meanwhile, is overseeing dual probes into Trump’s actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and his failure to comply with a Justice Department subpoena demanding the return of government documents and possible mishandling of the documents.

Trump has denied wrongdoing in all three probes and maintains he’s being unfairly persecuted.