Former Pres. Donald Trump was criminally indicted on Thursday over a hush payment allegedly made to a porn star weeks before the US election in 2016.
Trump is now officially the first former US president to face criminal charges.
A preliminary jury, which has been meeting since January, voted to indict Trump after hearing testimony about this. Among those testifying was Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Cohen admitted that he arranged a payment of $130,000 (about R2.3 million) to 44-year-old porn star Stormy Daniels to ensure that she did not reveal details about her alleged relationship with Trump in 2006.
Cohen already pleaded guilty to the charges against him in 2018 and was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in the alleged hush payment.
Trump was invited to testify before the jury himself, but declined. He denies the relationship between him and Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
According to Susan Necheles, Trump’s legal representative, the 76-year-old former president is expected to be charged on Tuesday.
Attorney General Alvin Bragg’s office confirmed that he contacted Trump’s legal team on Thursday to coordinate how and where Trump will report. The charges against him will then be made public.
Trump is also expected to be able to plead to the charges against him, after which a judge will decide whether he is arrested or released on bail.
Should Trump not report, the authorities in New York will have to start the extradition process from the US state of Florida.
Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, has already made it clear that the state will not help the authorities with such an extradition process.
Once Trump is charged and pleads, several court hearings will take place to determine a trial date and draw up a witness list.
It is possible that Trump could enter into a plea agreement with the state in exchange for a lighter sentence, but legal experts believe this is unlikely, mainly because Trump maintains he is innocent.
Trump labeled the events as “political persecution and election interference”, while Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, believes the developments have caused “irreparable damage” to the country.
Trump’s former vice president and possible opponent in the 2024 election, Mike Pence, called it an “outrage” that “will only further divide the US”.
Democrat Adam Schiff, who was also the lead prosecutor in Trump’s first impeachment in 2019, described the complaint as “sobering” and an “unprecedented development”.
“The indictment and possible arrest of a former president is a unique phenomenon throughout American history,” he said.
“So are the illegal actions that Trump is accused of.”
Presidential efforts continue
Trump is expected to continue his campaign to become president again next year.
There is nothing in the US constitution that prevents someone from running for president while facing criminal charges. Even a guilty conviction does not prevent this.
Someone who is guilty of “insurrection or rebellion” is indeed prohibited from holding an elected office.
At the time, the House of Representatives charged Trump with “incitement to insurrection” in January 2021 when his supporters descended on the congressional building. The senate later acquitted him.
A special counsel is currently investigating Trump’s role in the attack on the congressional building and this could lead to further charges against him.
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