- Ex-president target of probe of alleged payments to porn star
- Trump would be the first US president to face criminal charges
- It’s unlikely he’d be handcuffed or forced to do a perp walk
- New York City braces for indictment after Trump urges protests
New York: Donald Trump claims he will be arrested on Tuesday on charges stemming from an investigation into a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016. It would be the first-ever criminal case against any US president. If that happens, how the former president is processed by law-enforcement officials in Manhattan may be unlike any defendant in history.
On Saturday, Trump urged followers on social media to protest what he said was his looming arrest. In his call for protests, Trump raised concerns for law enforcement that supporters might engage in violence similar to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol in Washington.
Fearing a trap, however, several far-right grassroots groups have opted not to heed his call, security analysts said.
A grand jury, which heard further testimony on Monday, could bring charges as soon as this week. Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the White House again in 2024, had predicted he would be arrested on Tuesday.
On Monday the grand jury heard from a witness, lawyer Robert Costello, who said Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen had handled the hush-money payments without Trump's involvement.
"Michael Cohen decided on his own - that's what he told us - on his own, to see if he could take care of this," Costello told reporters after testifying to the grand jury at Trump's lawyers' request.
Cohen, who testified twice before the grand jury, has said publicly Trump directed him to make the payments on Trump's behalf.
Earlier in 2016, Cohen also arranged for former Playboy model Karen McDougal to be paid $150,000 by the publisher of the supermarket tabloid The National Enquirer, which then squelched her story in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill.” Trump denies having sex with either woman.
Trump’s company “grossed up” Cohen’s reimbursement for the Daniels payment to defray tax payments, according to federal prosecutors who filed criminal charges against the lawyer in connection with the payments in 2018. In all, Cohen got $360,000 plus a $60,000 bonus, for a total of $420,000.
Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments. Federal prosecutors say the payments amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign. But they declined to file charges against Trump himself.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team appears to be looking at whether Trump or anyone committed crimes in New York state in arranging the payments, or in the way they accounted for them internally at the Trump Organization.
Trump will be no ordinary defendant if he's charged
While Trump will get fingerprinted and have his mug-shot taken, he won't be marched before cameras in handcuffs or placed in a holding cell, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the details aren't public. He'll likely remain in the custody of the Secret Service agents assigned to his protection detail, the person said.
"His status as a former president, for better of worse, will lead to somewhat different treatment," said Temidayo Aganga-Williams, a former federal prosecutor. "The security assessments are different here than if he was a private citizen. He is less likely to be seen as a security threat than a previously unknown defendant."
The Trump grand jury investigation in Manhattan is being overseen by Juan Merchan, the same New York State Supreme Court judge who handled the tax-fraud prosecution of Trump's longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and the tax fraud trial of the former president's two companies, according to the person who asked not to be identified.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is investigating Trump for allegedly directing his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to pay $130,000 to the porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about her alleged affair with Trump. Trump has denied the affair and called the investigation a witch hunt.
“There is a great likelihood that he will self-surrender, which means you won’t see a 5 a.m. knock on Mar-a-Lago’s door, officers swarming his house and arresting him and bringing him out in handcuffs,” she said. “He would appear at the prosecutor’s office voluntarily and then be processed, fingerprinted and his picture taken. ”
Cominsky is less sure that Trump would want to avoid a public appearance for his arraignment, which would come within two days of an indictment. At that time a judge lists the charges and asks if the defendant pleads guilty or not guilt. “He doesn’t shy away from the chaos, so he may want to use this to his advantage,” she said.
An indictment could hurt Trump's comeback attempt. Some 44% of Republicans say he should drop out of the presidential race if he is indicted, according to a seven-day Reuters/Ipsos poll that concluded on Monday.
The investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is one of several legal challenges facing Trump. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations tied to his arranging payments to Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, and another woman in exchange for their silence about affairs they claimed with Trump.
Trump has denied that any such affairs took place The Manhattan District Attorney's office had asked that Cohen be available as a rebuttal witness, but he was told on Monday afternoon that his testimony was not needed, according to his lawyer Lanny Davis. Cohen told MSNBC he had not been asked to return on Wednesday.
Law enforcement officials have been making security preparations for the possibility of an indictment in coming days or weeks — or a court appearance by the president himself.
No sign of unrest
New York Mayor Eric Adams told reporters police were monitoring social media and keeping an eye out for "inappropriate actions" in the city. The New York Police Department said there were no known credible threats.
If charged, Trump would likely have to travel from his Florida home for fingerprinting and other processing. Law enforcement officials met on Monday to discuss the logistics, several media outlets reported.
Sources have said Bragg's office was presenting evidence to a grand jury about a $130,000 payment made to Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
Trump's fellow Republicans have widely criticised the probe as politically motivated.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump's rival for the Republican presidential nomination, said on Monday Bragg was imposing a "political agenda" that compromised the rule of law, but he also took a veiled swipe at Trump.
"I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair," he told reporters.
Republicans in the US House of Representatives launched an investigation of Bragg's office with a letter seeking communications, documents and testimony related to the probe.
Trump and other Republicans have also said the Manhattan District Attorney's office should focus more on tackling crime.
Asked to comment on the letter, a spokesperson for the DA's office, citing statistics that homicides and shootings were down this year, said: "We will not be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process, nor will we let baseless accusations deter us from fairly applying the law." Trump was impeached twice by the House during his presidency, once in 2019 over his conduct regarding Ukraine and again in 2021 over the attack on the US Capitol by his supporters. He was acquitted by the Senate both times.
Several more legal challenges remain
Bragg won a conviction last December against Trump's business on tax fraud charges.
But legal analysts say the hush-money case may be more difficult. Bragg's office will have to prove that Trump intended to commit a crime, and his lawyers will likely employ a range of counterattacks to try to get the case dismissed, experts say.
Trump, meanwhile, has to contend with other legal challenges, raising the possibility he will have to shuttle between campaign stops and courtrooms before the November 2024 election.
Trump's lawyers on Monday asked a Georgia court to quash a special grand jury report detailing its investigation into his alleged efforts to overturn his 2020 statewide election defeat.
The filing in Fulton County Superior Court also seeks to have the county district attorney, Fani Willis, recused from the case, arguing her media appearances and social media posts demonstrated bias against Trump.
Trump is also seeking to delay a civil fraud trial, scheduled for Oct. 2, brought by the New York attorney general that alleges a decade-long scheme to manipulate the value of his assets to win better terms from bankers and insurers.
Trump faces two civil trials involving former magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll, who claims that Trump defamed her by denying he raped her. A federal judge on Monday denied a request from both sides to combine the two cases into one.
If the Manhattan grand jury votes to indict Trump, the indictment would remain under seal until it is formally presented to the court, the person said. Bragg's office could announce it at a news conference if he gets the court's permission to make it public, the person said.
Law-enforcement authorities would likely call Trump's lawyer as a courtesy, asking him to surrender to detectives working with Bragg at his lower Manhattan offices, which are in the same building as Merchan's courtroom, the person said.
Trump's lawyer Joseph Tacopina said late last week Trump would surrender to authorities if there is an indictment and would not provoke a standoff.
After the processing paperwork is completed, Trump would be arraigned before a New York judge, according to the person. Because the charges would not be violent felonies, no bail would be required, the person said.
A spokeswoman for Bragg declined to comment on what provisions the office would make if Trump is indicted.
No perp walk
Two people familiar with the situation said Trump probably won't have to endure the so-called perp walk, a courtesy that wasn't extended to his longtime top executive, Weisselberg. The former Trump Organization chief financial officer was led down a long courthouse hallway in handcuffs and guarded by burly detectives as photographers recorded the spectacle.
"The Secret Service protection adds another level of complication," Aganga-Williams said. "Typically, prosecutors after indictment have two options: one, is to give an indicted individual an opportunity to surrender and be taken into custody; or the other is to have that individual arrested."
Security in the city remained a top concern after Trump issued a statement on Saturday declaring he expected to be charged Tuesday and calling for supporters to rally: "Protest, take our nation back!"
Trump wrote in his online post. He also repeated his call for protests in a second Truth Social post Saturday afternoon. "It's time!!!" he wrote.
In the wake of Trump's statements, Bragg in an email cautioned staffers not to be intimidated by Trump's calls for unrest, saying his office will "not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York."
Merchan, who handles criminal cases, is well-versed with Trump. He sentenced Weisselberg to five months in prison after he pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges last year. Merchan also presided over a weeks-long tax-fraud trial of two of Trump's companies, later ordering both to pay $1.6 million, the maximum fines allowed under the law. A Manhattan jury found them guilty of all tax fraud charges.
Federal law enforcement, including the FBI, Secret Service and US Marshals Service along with the New York Police Department and court officials met Monday to discuss security concerns around a possible Trump indictment, the person said.
Meanwhile, New York City mayor Eric Adams said the city was prepared. "We're doing what we always do," Adams said Monday. "We are monitoring comments on social media and the NYPD is doing their normal role of making sure that they are there's no inappropriate actions in the city. And we're confident we're going to be able to do that."
The NYPD's "state of readiness remains a constant at all times, for all contingencies," the department said in a statement Monday. "Our communications and coordination with our partners in government and in law enforcement are fundamental tenets of our commitment to public safety."
What is this grand jury?
A grand jury is made up of people drawn from the community, similar to a trial jury. But unlike juries that hear trials, grand juries don’t decide whether someone is guilty or innocent. They only decide whether there is sufficient evidence for someone to be charged. Grand juries exist in the federal court system and in many states.
Proceedings are closed to the public, including the media. There is no judge present nor anyone representing the accused.
Prosecutors call and question witnesses, and grand jurors can also ask questions. In New York, the person who could be indicted may ask for a certain witness, though it's up to grand jurors.
New York grand juries have 23 people. At least 16 must be present to hear evidence or deliberate. Twelve have to agree there is enough evidence in order to issue an indictment. The grand jury may also find there is not enough evidence of a crime or direct the prosecutor to file lesser charges.
Centuries-old rules have kept grand juries under wraps to protect the reputations of people who end up not being charged, to encourage reluctant witnesses to testify, to prevent those about to be indicted from fleeing and to guard against outside pressure.
Grand juries have long been criticized as little more than rubber stamps for prosecutors. Former New York Judge Sol Wachtler famously said that prosecutors could convince a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” Defenders of the process say it is a crucial safeguard against politically motivated prosecutions.
Who has testified in this case?
One of the final witnesses being called was Robert Costello, who was once a legal adviser to Cohen, the government’s key witness in the investigation.
The men have since had a falling out, and Costello has indicated that he has information he believes would undercut the credibility of Cohen and contradict his current incriminating statements about Trump.
Costello contacted a lawyer for Trump saying he had information that could be exculpatory for Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss secret legal proceedings. The lawyer brought it to the attention of the district attorney’s office, which last week subpoenaed Costello’s law firm for records and invited him to testify.
He was at the building where the jurors were meeting on Monday, invited by prosecutors, ensuring the grand jury had an opportunity to consider testimony or evidence that could weaken the case for indicting.
Trump was also been invited to testify, but his lawyer has said the former president has no plans to participate.
What about the political ramifications?
Trump says charges would actually help him in the 2024 presidential contest. Longtime ally Lindsey Graham, senator from South Carolina, said Saturday that District Attorney Bragg “has done more to help Donald Trump get elected.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considering joining the Republican field, criticizes the Trump investigation as politically motivated, “fundamentally wrong.” But he also threw one of his first jabs at the former president in a quip likely to intensify their rivalry. DeSantis said he personally doesn’t “know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some kind of alleged affair."
Comments by other potential rivals, eager to convince voters it is time to move on from the former president but also contending with the fact that he remains the most popular figure in the party:
— During a Saturday visit to Iowa, former Vice President Mike Pence called the idea of indicting a former president “deeply troubling.”
— Asa Hutchinson, the former Arkansas governor mulling his own 2024 bid, said he didn’t expect Trump to withdraw from the race after an indictment, though that would be the “right” thing to do.
— Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a declared candidate who also served as Trump's U.N. ambassador, said Monday on Fox News that Bragg's case was an attempt at scoring “political points," adding, “You never want to condone any sort of prosecution that's being politicized.”
“At the end of the day, not one single person’s opinion of him will be any different after indictment than it was before,” veteran GOP operative Terry Sullivan said in an interview. “All of his perceived negatives are already baked into his name ID with voters.”
Here’s what we know, and don’t know, about the investigation into Trump:
In her 2018 tell-all book "Full Disclosure," Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, recounts her fateful encounter with Trump at the Nevada golf resort on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
A picture taken at the time shows them posing together at a porn studio booth where Daniels was working as a "greeter."
Trump is wearing a red hat, yellow polo shirt and khaki pants. The voluptuous Daniels is standing next to him in a tight-fitting black top that exposes her midriff.
Daniels was 27 at the time and Trump 60. His third wife, Melania, had given birth to their son Barron about four months earlier.
In her book, Daniels said one of Trump's bodyguards invited her to have dinner with "The Apprentice" star in his penthouse.
They proceeded to have what "may have been the least impressive sex I'd ever had," she writes in an account that also includes an unflattering description of Trump's anatomy.
Trump has denied they ever had sex and has accused Daniels of "extortion" and a "total con job."
Daniels said she remained in touch with Trump over the next year in the hope he would get her on his reality television show but it never happened.
HUSH MONEY PAYMENT
Fast forward to 2016 and Trump is the Republican presidential nominee.
The National Enquirer, a tabloid newspaper owned by a Trump ally, discovers that Daniels is seeking bidders for her potentially politically damaging story about her relationship with Trump.
The tabloid put her in touch with Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer and fixer nicknamed "The Pitbull."
Cohen, who has since turned against Trump, has acknowledged arranging a $130,000 "hush money" payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence about the 2006 tryst.
Daniels and Trump - under the respective pseudonyms Peggy Peterson and David Dennison - were the parties to a non-disclosure agreement prepared by Cohen that has emerged in court filings.
The payment was revealed by The Wall Street Journal in January 2018 and forms the basis for the charges Trump may be facing this week in New York.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and claims that he is the victim of a political "witch hunt" by the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, intended to derail his 2024 White House campaign.
Cohen, who has served time in prison for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, and Daniels were both interviewed by prosecutors this month in connection with the case.
Since coming forward, Daniels has been cashing in on her notoriety while battling Trump in and out of court and on social media.
She suggestively refers to Trump on her Twitter feed as "Tiny" while he throws various insults her way, including calling her "Horseface."
Along with her book, Daniels has made appearances at strip clubs around the country billed as the "Make America Horny Again" tour.
Her one-time high-profile lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is currently serving jail time for stealing money from Daniels.
Avenatti tricked literary agents into sending $300,000 of an $800,000 advance she received for her book into a bank account he controlled, without her knowledge.
Avenatti spent the money on personal and professional expenses including plane tickets, restaurants and the lease of a Ferrari, according to prosecutors.