What to know about NY prosecutors’ probe into Trump’s role in hush money scheme
(CNN) — A yearslong probe into a hush money scheme involving former President Donald Trump and adult film star Stormy Daniels has led to him being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury for his alleged role in the scheme, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
The indictment has been filed under seal and will be announced in the coming days. The charges are not publicly known at this time, one source told CNN. Trump will likely be arraigned in court early next week, according to his defense attorney, Joe Tacopina.
Earlier in March, Trump had announced on social media that he anticipated he would be arrested in connection with the case, though a spokesperson for the former president said at the time that his team had not received any updates from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, which has been leading the investigation.
The indictment against Trump is historic, marking the first time a former US president and major presidential candidate has ever been criminally charged.
Here’s what to know about the hush money investigation.
Where does the investigation stand?
Now that the grand jury has indicted Trump, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office will reach out to Trump’s attorneys to discuss his surrender to face an arraignment.
In the weeks leading up to the indictment, prosecutors in Bragg’s office asked Trump to appear before the grand jury investigating the matter.
The request had represented the clearest indication at the time that investigators were nearing a decision on whether to take the unprecedented step of indicting the former president since potential defendants in New York are required by law to be notified and invited to appear before a grand jury weighing charges.
The grand jury’s decision is sure to send shockwaves across the country, pushing the American political system — which has never seen one of its ex-leaders confronted with criminal charges, let alone while running again for president — into uncharted waters.
Focus on payments
The Manhattan DA’s investigation first began under Bragg’s predecessor, Cy Vance, when Trump was still in the White House. It relates to a $130,000 payment made by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to Daniels in late October 2016, days before the 2016 presidential election, to silence her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the affair.
At issue in the investigation is the payment made to Daniels and the Trump Organization’s reimbursement to Cohen.
According to court filings in Cohen’s own federal prosecution, Trump Org. 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 Manhattan DA’s investigation has hung over Trump since his presidency, and is just one of several probes the former president is facing as he makes his third bid for the White House.
The potential crimes at play
Hush money payments aren’t illegal. Charges have not been made public but 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 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 Trump Organization noted the reimbursements as a legal expense in its internal books. Trump has previously denied knowledge of the payment.
A rare case
The grand jury’s decision marks a rare moment in history: Trump is the first former US president ever indicted and also the first major presidential candidate under indictment seeking office.
The former president has said he “wouldn’t even think about leaving” the 2024 race if charged.
The decision to bring charges is not without risk nor does it guarantee a conviction. Trump’s lawyers could challenge whether campaign finance laws would apply as a crime to make the case a felony, for instance.
What Trump has said
Trump released a statement in response to the indictment, claiming it was “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”
“I believe this Witch-Hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” the former president said. “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 has consistently denied wrongdoing in the case. In a lengthy response on his Truth Social account earlier this month, Trump said in part, “I did absolutely nothing wrong, I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels.”
In mid-March, a spokesperson said Trump was “rightfully highlighting his innocence” by calling on supporters to protest in the event that he is charged.
An attorney for Trump said earlier that month that any prosecution related to hush money payments to an adult film star would be “completely unprecedented” and accused the Manhattan district attorney of targeting the former president for “political reasons and personal animus.”
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina said in a statement shared with CNN that the campaign finance laws in this case, which is related to seven-year-old allegations, are “murky” and that the underlying legal theories of a possible case are “untested.”
“This DA and the former DA have been scouring every aspect of President Trump’s personal life and business affairs for years in search of a crime and needs to stop. This is simply not what our justice system is about,” Tacopina said.
Cohen’s role in scheme
Cohen, Trump’s onetime fixer, played a central role in the hush money episode and is involved in the investigation.
He has admitted to paying $130,000 to Daniels to stop her from going public about the alleged affair with Trump just before the 2016 election. He also helped arrange a $150,000 payment from the publisher of the National Enquirer to Karen McDougal to kill her story claiming a 10-month affair with Trump. Trump also denies an affair with McDougal.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to eight counts, including two counts of campaign-finance violations for orchestrating or making payments during the 2016 campaign.
Cohen met with the Manhattan district attorney’s office earlier this month and praised Bragg for offering Trump the opportunity to testify.
“I have to applaud District Attorney Bragg for giving Donald the opportunity to come in and to tell his story,” he said to reporters as he walked into court. “Now knowing Donald as well as I do, understand that, he doesn’t tell the truth. It’s one thing to turn around and to lie on your ‘Untruth Social’ and it’s another thing to turn around and to lie before a grand jury. So I don’t suspect that he’s going to be coming.”
What Daniels has said
For her part, Daniels, also known as Stephanie Clifford, said in 2021 that she had not yet testified in the probe but that she would “love nothing more than” to be interviewed by prosecutors investigating the Trump Organization.
Daniels said at the time that her attorney has been in contact with Manhattan and New York state investigators and that she has had meetings with them about other issues. She said if she were asked to talk to investigators or a grand jury she would “tell them everything I know.”
She wrote a tell-all book in 2018 that described the alleged affair in graphic detail, with her then-attorney saying that the book was intended to prove her story about having sex with Trump is true.