Washington: Donald Trump is right about at least one thing: No other former US president has ever been treated like this.
Trump faces an unprecedented chain of indignities after being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on Thursday in a probe of hush money payments to a porn star during his 2016 campaign “- a historic event in American law and politics that is certain to divide an already polarized society and electorate.
The 45th president, the first former Oval Office occupant to be indicted, will be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken like any criminal defendant when he comes to New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan to face the charges, court officials have said.
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He probably won’t be handcuffed or led before a scrum of clicking camera shutters in the traditional “perp walk.” And he will almost certainly be released on his own recognizance, under the protection of his Secret Service detail, rather than detained.
He is expected to be arraigned as early as Tuesday, said his lawyer Joe Tacopina, who said his client would surrender to authorities.
“Obviously we’re disappointed, but we will swiftly and aggressively fight these charges and pursue justice in this case,” Tacopina said.
Trump must now grapple with the charges even as he campaigns for a second presidential term in next year’s race. The indictment, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, comes as Trump faces the Atlanta-based DA’s investigation of his bid to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, as well as a federal special counsel’s probe of those efforts and of his handling of government documents.
The indictment landed on the American political and legal landscape like a bombshell, one day after reports that the grand jury had been given three weeks off and was expected to reconvene on April 24.
The caveat was that Bragg could bring the jurors back at any time in the interim. Tacopina said Bragg’s office didn’t notify him that his client had been indicted until Thursday afternoon.
The jurors convened to make their momentous vote on a cold March afternoon. Susan Hoffinger, who was the lead prosecutor in the tax fraud case against two of Trump’s companies last year, was seen walking into the building where the grand jury sits at about 1:45pm, accompanied by at least two other prosecutors on her team.
Hoffinger, who is also the chief of investigations for the Manhattan DA’s office, was later seen leaving the building at about 4:45. Shortly after 5, court officials said the indictment had been filed. They said high security at the courthouse, which has been ramped up since March 21, when Trump predicted he would be arrested, continued Thursday.
Tacopina said he hasn’t been told what the specific charges are and expects them to remain under seal until the arraignment.
“What has been predicted for a long time has finally come to fruition,” said Barbara McQuade, a former US attorney now at the University of Michigan’s law school. “Trump will have to appear in court and put forth a legal defense.”
She added that “tough talk will not save him in court.”
Trump said in a statement that the indictment amounts to “political persecution” and “election interference at the highest level in history.” He described the case as the latest effort by Democrats to “destroy the Make America Great Again movement,” comparing the indictment to his earlier impeachments and the “Russia, Russia, Russia” investigation.
“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,” he said. “Never before in our nation’s history has this been done.”
The impact of the indictment stood in contrast to the muted, sober tones of a statement from the district attorney’s office.
“This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan DA’s office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal,” it read. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”
The White House declined to comment.
Bragg under fire
Bragg’s office has come under fire in recent weeks, first from Trump himself, who predicted “death and destruction” if he were indicted. The office has also been under pressure from several prominent Republican congressmen, including Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, who demanded that the Manhattan DA respond to requests for documents justifying his investigation of Trump.
Far from paralyzing the DA, the threats and pressure appear to have galvanized Bragg’s office, according to a former prosecutor from the office who has stayed in touch with Bragg’s people. The former prosecutor, now in private practice, asked not to be named because the conversations were private.
Trump attorney Alina Habba predicted her client would prevail in the end.
“A former president, a current candidate and my friend President Donald J. Trump is a victim of a corrupt and distorted version of the American justice system and history,” Habba said in a statement. “He will be vindicated.”
DeSantis on extradition
Even Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, widely expected to challenge Trump for the Republican presidential nomination “- and whom Trump has repeatedly belittled as he campaigns “- said he wouldn’t help extradite Trump from Mar-a-Lago to New York if it came to that.
“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” he said on Twitter after the indictment.
Tacopina said Trump would surrender to New York authorities, so no extradition measures would be necessary.
All three probes of Trump are underway during his third campaign for the White House and as his Republican support may be waning. While his base, a steady 30% of the GOP electorate, supports the 76-year-old candidate no matter what, many other Republicans and independent voters are looking for a less dramatic alternative, like DeSantis. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is also running.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and dismissed all three inquiries as partisan vendettas. And he has gained significant support by claiming he is the victim of a “deep state” persecution.
Yet neither criminal charges nor a conviction disqualifies him from running or even serving as president.
In the case brought by Bragg, a Democrat, Trump and his company are alleged to have falsified records to conceal the payments to Stormy Daniels. His onetime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to repress claims that she’d had a sexual relationship with Trump, and was reimbursed by the Trump Organization. Trump has denied the affair and any involvement in the payoff.
The case rests on a novel legal theory, some experts say. Falsifying business records can be a misdemeanor under New York law, but for prosecutors to prove Trump committed a felony, they would have to show he was involved in the falsification to commit or conceal a second crime.
During his administration, federal prosecutors decided against seeking Trump’s indictment over the hush money, citing Justice Department guidance that a sitting president can’t be charged.
Trump said earlier in March that the DA’s office had invited him to testify before the grand jury Bragg convened in the case “- an invitation that signaled prosecutors were serious about bringing charges against him. He declined the offer.
Trump companies’ conviction
The case is the latest by Bragg’s office tied to Trump. A New York state jury in December found a pair of Trump companies guilty of engaging in a years-long tax fraud scheme and fined them $1.6 million. While Trump wasn’t charged, his longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges and was the prosecution’s star witness at the trial.
The charges against Trump come after Bragg initially decided in February 2022 not to pursue an indictment, spurring the resignation of two senior prosecutors on the case. One of them, Mark Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor who led the investigation under Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., sharply criticized Bragg for failing to charge Trump.
Pomerantz said in his book People vs. Donald Trump that his team thought the payments to Daniels and a former Playboy model could have been part of a larger case including Trump’s falsifying business records in his annual financial statements.
Noah Bookbinder, president of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said the indictment adds to Trump’s record of being the first president to be impeached twice and described him as the “most corrupt president in American history.”
“He has spent his entire political career dodging accountability for his wanton disregard for the law,” Bookbinder said. “It is finally catching up to him. The charges in New York are the first ever brought against him, but they will not be the last.”
In both impeachments, Trump was acquitted in the Senate.