Donald Trump has been indicted - what happens now?

Former United States President Donald Trump faces charges in relation to a New York investigation into an alleged hush-money payment made to a porn star ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

 The events underlying Donald Trump's indictment in New York - hush money payments to a porn star who claimed to have had a sexual encounter with him - took place nearly seven years ago.

But any potential trial is still at minimum more than a year away, legal experts said, raising the possibility that the former U.S. president could face a jury in a Manhattan courtroom during or even after the 2024 presidential campaign, as he seeks a return to the White House.

A grand jury has voted to indict Trump, after months of hearing evidence about a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 election campaign. The money was intended to buy her silence about the encounter she says they had years before.

The charges were not clear, though legal analysts have said it is likely Trump will be prosecuted for falsifying business records on charges of hiding the true nature of the payments.

Trump has denied Daniels's claim, and his lawyer has accused Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, of extortion.

Trump, the first former U.S. president to face criminal prosecution, is leading potential rivals for the Republican nomination, opinion polls show, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for the White House.

In the first three quarters of 2022, the average criminal case in Manhattan took more than 900 days to move from indictment to a trial verdict, according to data from the state's division of criminal justice services - and Trump's case is far from typical.

That could push any trial past Election Day in November 2024, though putting a president-elect or president on trial for state charges would enter uncharted legal waters. If elected, he would not hold the power to pardon himself of state charges.

"This is so unprecedented that it's hard for me to say," Karen Friedman Agnifilo, former Manhattan chief assistant district attorney, said when asked earlier this month whether a judge would put Trump on trial close to the election. "I think it's tricky."

The New York case is one of several focused on Trump, including a Georgia election interference probe and a pair of federal investigations into his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters trying to overturn his November 2020 election defeat. Another investigation is about his retention of classified documents after leaving the White House.


In his early career in real estate, as a television celebrity, and then in politics, the famously litigious Trump has employed aggressive counter-attacks and delay tactics when confronted with legal challenges.

Trump has accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat, of targeting him for political gain and could try to seek dismissal of the charges on those grounds.

Trump will likely pursue other avenues as well, some of which could present thorny legal issues that take time to resolve.

Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he coordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels and to a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also said she had a sexual relationship with him, which Trump has denied.

While president, Trump reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels payments, and federal prosecutors who charged Cohen said in court papers that the payments were falsely recorded as for legal services.

Falsifying business records - the charge that legal analysts say is most likely - is typically a misdemeanor.

To elevate that charge to a felony, prosecutors must prove that Trump falsified records to cover up a second crime. One possibility, according to the New York Times, is that prosecutors could assert the payment itself violated state campaign finance law since it was effectively an illegal secret donation to boost his campaign.

But using state election law in that manner - and in a case involving a federal, not a state, candidate - is an untested legal theory, legal experts said, and Trump's lawyers would be sure to challenge it.

Trump could also challenge whether the statute of limitations - five years in this instance - should have run out. Under New York law, the statute of limitations can be extended if the defendant has been out of state, but Trump may argue that serving as U.S. president should not apply.

"There's a whole host of possibilities," David Shapiro, a former FBI agent, and prosecutor and a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said before news of the indictment broke. "This is a dream case for defense attorneys."


According to a Bragg spokesperson, prosecutors, and Trump's legal team are negotiating a surrender date, when Trump would have to travel from his Florida home to the district attorney's office in New York to be fingerprinted and photographed.

Trump would then make an initial appearance in court, where he would be formally charged. He would likely be allowed to head home afterward, experts said.

The New York Times and NBC News reported that Trump is expected to surrender next week, citing his lawyers. If Trump for some reason decided not to come in voluntarily, prosecutors could seek to have him extradited from Florida.

In an ironic twist, DeSantis would typically have to give formal approval for an extradition demand in his capacity as governor.

In a Twitter post on Thursday, DeSantis said he would not assist in any extradition request, calling the indictment politically motivated. But Florida legal experts said the governor's role in the process is strictly administrative and questioned whether DeSantis can lawfully refuse such a request.

If necessary, experts said, the Manhattan district attorney's office could also go to court to secure Trump's appearance in New York.

After weeks of speculation, a New York grand jury voted on Thursday to indict Trump, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, making him the first former president to face criminal prosecution in US history.

The specific charges are not yet known, and the indictment will likely be announced in the coming days. The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg issued a statement saying prosecutors are working with Trump’s lawyers to arrange his surrender.

It also affirmed that, for now, the charges will remain under seal. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected,” the district attorney’s office said through a spokesperson.

In a statement released through his 2024 presidential campaign, Trump called the indictment “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history”.

He said the case was part of a coordinated “witch hunt” against him, adding that he is completely innocent.

The New York investigation centers on a $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, and fixer, made to porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the former president’s 2016 campaign.

Trump said earlier this month that he expected to be arrested in relation to the case.

He called on his supporters to protest in a fiery social media post that raised concerns about potential violence — especially in light of January 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said the indictment comes at a surprising time, with the New York grand jury last sitting on Monday.

But, he explained, the grand jury could have agreed on the indictment before Thursday’s announcement. “Then it is up to the foreperson of the jury to sign that indictment at any time that the prosecutor wishes to get it signed,” Hanna said.


He added that Trump would be told when he has to appear in Manhattan court, “where he would be fingerprinted and charges formally laid”. But it remains unclear when that would happen, or what the specific charges are.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she had an affair with Trump, who is married. Cohen said he paid her on Trump’s orders.

The former president has denied the affair and said the payment was to protect his reputation from a false accusation, insisting that he did nothing wrong.

Ahead of Thursday’s indictment, several US media outlets had reported that the potential charges relate to the way Trump reimbursed Cohen, with prosecutors alleging he improperly labeled the payments as legal expenses.

If the payment is determined to be a campaign donation, it could also have violated election laws that cap contributions to political candidates at $2,700 per individual and require them to be made public.

Daniels herself celebrated Thursday’s news by thanking her supporters on Twitter, quipping she doesn’t “want to spill my champagne”. Meanwhile, her lawyer, Clark Brewster, said the indictment was “no cause for joy”.

“The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected,” he wrote. “Now let truth and justice prevail.”

The Republican party largely rallied around Trump in the aftermath of the indictment news, with his second oldest son, Eric Trump, calling the indictment “third world prosecutorial misconduct”.

“It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year,” he said.

For his part, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024, denounced the indictment as “un-American”.

He added he will “not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue”. Trump has predominantly lived at his residence in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, since leaving office.

Trump has already announced plans to seek re-election in 2024, with Al Jazeera’s Hanna noting that an indictment would not preclude him from running.

“Any person who’s been indicted, or in fact sentenced, can still stand for president in the United States in terms of the constitution,” Hanna said.

“Whether or not it galvanizes his base … is something that remains to be seen.”

Democrats, meanwhile, greeted news of Trump’s criminal charges with a rallying cry that “no one is above the law”, no matter how powerful.

Democrat Adam Schiff, who played a prominent role in Trump’s first impeachment trial, called the indictment “unprecedented”.

“But so too is the unlawful conduct in which Trump has been engaged,” he said. “A nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountable, even when they hold high office”.

Frequent targets of Trump’s criticism, like Representative Ilhan Omar, also weighed in with statements.

“This is just one of many criminal acts for which Donald Trump is being investigated,” Omar wrote. “Make no mistake: The fact that one of the most powerful people in the world was investigated impartially and indicted is a testament to the fact that we still live in a nation of laws.”

 The unprecedented indictment of former President Donald Trump plunges the legal system into murky waters.

The Manhattan grand jury’s decision to charge Trump for his alleged involvement in a hush money scheme raises a bevy of questions about the soundness of the case, the logistics involved in forcing a former president into criminal court, and the ramifications for other ongoing state and federal investigations of Trump.

Here’s POLITICO’s look at some of the key questions posed by the indictment.

What is Trump accused of?

While the precise charges are secret for now, prosecutors have concluded they can prove a criminal case against Trump because of the apparent subterfuge surrounding a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her from publicizing her claim about a sexual encounter with Trump. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen funded that payment through a home equity line of credit.

Trump insisted in April 2018 he did not know about the hush money, but Cohen provided Congress a series of check images, signed by Trump, reflecting payments to Cohen that he said were reimbursements for the money he laid out, including at least two that came while Trump was in the White House. Cohen said that Trump and his company concealed the purpose of the payments by falsely labeling them as legal expenses.

Under New York law, disguising such payments in corporate records is a crime, but typically only a misdemeanor. It becomes a felony if the false business records were intended to obscure a second crime. In this case, that second crime appears to be the use of the funds to advance Trump’s presidential campaign allegedly in violation of campaign finance laws.

The strongest evidence of such a link to politics may be the timing: After months of demands, the money was wired to Daniels’ lawyer on Oct. 27, 2016, just days before the 2016 presidential election.

What are the possible holes in the prosecution’s case?

It is difficult to assess the case against Trump without knowing the exact charges or all of the evidence that prosecutors have marshaled during an investigation that has lasted more than four years. But based on publicly available information, legal experts have identified several features of the case that may present stumbling blocks as prosecutors seek a guilty verdict.

For starters, Cohen is not the strongest possible witness for prosecutors. He’s provided a lot of the evidence and testimony needed to bring the case, which investigators have gone to great lengths to authenticate. But his credibility is open to challenge since he pleaded guilty in 2018 to nine felonies and was sentenced to three years in federal prison. He’s also repeatedly expressed extreme bitterness towards Trump, even running a podcast he titled “Mea Culpa,” an allusion to his regrets over his time as Trump’s ally.

The case also dates to 2016 and 2017, so it is more than five years old. Some of the delays can be readily explained — pressing a criminal case against Trump while he was in office would have been difficult and perhaps impossible. But it’s been more than two years now since Trump left the White House.

Trump could argue that prosecutors waited too long. New York’s statute of limitations for most felonies is five years, but there are some exceptions to that deadline, including if the person being charged was living out of state.

Another potential difficulty: Prosecutors may have to prove that Trump knew the arrangement was illegal. Trump could argue that he fairly assumed that Cohen, as an attorney, was executing the payments and related paperwork in a manner that was lawful.

Will Trump remain free? Can he campaign while under indictment?

That will be up to the state-court judge assigned to Trump’s case, but it seems unlikely that prosecutors would seek to detain the former president or restrict his travel in the U.S. while the case is pending. There is no legal impediment to him continuing his presidential campaign while facing criminal charges — or even if he were jailed.

If Trump won the presidency while facing charges or a conviction, the legalities become considerably murkier. There are serious constitutional questions about whether a state court could keep someone elected to federal office from serving.

How will the indictment affect the other ongoing Trump-focused investigations?

The short answer is Not much. There’s no reason to think the indictment in Manhattan will influence the trajectory of several other probes that present an acute risk of more criminal charges for Trump. A grand jury in Fulton County, Ga., is examining his bid to overturn the election results in that state, and at the federal level, special counsel Jack Smith is leading twin probes into Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and his retention of government documents after his presidency.

Formally, a federal criminal case against Trump — if it were filed — would allow federal prosecutors to take precedence over any local case or cases.

Concurrent criminal proceedings against Trump would inevitably cause some logistical problems, but typically the feds and local prosecutors try to work out any conflicts.

How long will it take Trump to be brought to trial?

It will, by necessity, take many months to commence a trial of a former president of the United States. Even if both sides were eager to proceed to trial quickly, ironing out legal and constitutional questions would likely stretch out over the next year and into the 2024 primary season.

Add to that Trump’s penchant — in nearly every legal matter he’s embroiled in — to seek to delay and prolong proceedings whenever possible.

Trump’s lawyers could try to move the case to federal court, arguing that at least some of the payments to Cohen took place while Trump was president and therefore a state court should have no authority to resolve the matter. Trump also could seek to move the trial to a different courthouse elsewhere in New York state. And he could try to have the indictment dismissed or reduced. All of these pre-trial motions will take time to resolve.

A criminal tax case the Manhattan district attorney’s office filed against the Trump Organization in the same court in 2021 took about 15 months to get to trial. A jury convicted two Trump companies on all 17 felony charges last December. The issues in the new case are narrower, but the focus on Trump personally seems certain to drag things out.

With the indictment of Donald Trump by a New York state grand jury, a legal barrier has been broken. A maiden legal voyage has set sail. The most important takeaway is this: A president of the United States will never again rest comfortably in the belief that he or she can commit crimes with impunity. This is an important development for our republic. 

Our nation has long suffered from the absence of accountability for presidential crimes. Most notably, President Gerald Ford decided that former President Richard Nixon should not be held accountable for his crimes in office. Ford claimed his decision was for the good of the country, to help the country heal. This reasoning always struck me, as a career prosecutor, as a cruel joke. In 30 years, I never once told crime victims that I was going to help them heal by declining to prosecute the perpetrators. Announcing that you are declining to prosecute crime in the name of healing is a perversion of justice. 

A president of the United States will never again rest comfortably in the belief that he or she can commit crimes with impunity.

Of course, an indictment is only the first step toward accountability. Enormous challenges lie ahead. Trump’s legal team undoubtedly will wage a scorched-earth defense. And outside the court of law, we can expect Trump loyalists to wage battles in the court of public opinion, most likely deploying both facts and alternative facts. America cannot yet breathe easy, as justice is still well off on the horizon. 

Another likely consequence of this precedent-setting indictment is that it increases the odds that additional indictments will follow. I have long maintained that no prosecutor wants to be the first to charge a former president of the United States. As we are seeing now, the first indictment attracts the white-hot glare of media attention from around the world. 

And some of that attention can be downright dangerous. We cannot ignore that Trump and many of his associates have unleashed a level of hate and violence once thought impossible (or at least unacceptable) in a civilized society. With entreaties to his supporters such as “fight like hell or you won’t have a country anymore,” Trump has made violence in the quest for power not just acceptable but fashionable. 

One only need to look to the reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about how, on the day former national security adviser Michael Flynn testified before the Georgia state grand jury investigating Trump’s election crimes, law enforcement authorities brought in a “bomb-sniffing dog” and the Fulton County courthouse was guarded by “sheriff’s deputies and marshals carrying automatic weapons.” The prospect of violence coming to jurisdictions and to prosecution teams who pursue criminal charges against Trump cannot be ignored.

Prosecutors are not monolithic, but we do tend to be a fairly competitive bunch. I have seen a phenomenon that becomes relevant here when defendants commit crimes in multiple jurisdictions. Once prosecutors in one jurisdiction bring charges, prosecutors in other involved jurisdictions will often feel a greater sense of urgency to indict the same defendant to address the crimes committed in their jurisdictional backyards. This is not only human nature: Prosecutors also have constituents to whom they are responsible. This is most directly at play for district attorneys who face the prospect of running for re-election. Federal prosecutors are not elected, but, in a very real sense, they represent the interests of the American people in criminal prosecutions. 

An indictment is never a celebratory affair. It is simply a necessary step on the road to justice.

Based on public reporting alone, prosecutors in other jurisdictions — Fulton County, Georgia, and the federal inquiries under special prosecutor Jack Smith — have ample evidence to charge Trump. Recall, for example, that a federal judge in California, David Carter, ruled there was enough evidence to conclude that Trump and lawyer John Eastman committed two federal felonies in trying to challenge the 2020 election results: obstructing an official congressional proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The New York indictment will ratchet up the pressure on federal prosecutors and prosecutors in Georgia, including Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, to hold Trump accountable for the crimes he seems to have committed in their jurisdictions. 

An indictment is never a celebratory affair. It is simply a necessary step on the road to justice. But the indictment of a former president of the United States will send a necessary message, a powerful message, indeed a potentially democracy-saving message: Gone are the days when presidents are given carte blanche to commit crimes with impunity. This historic development is a move toward fulfilling the words of what had begun to feel like a hollow promise, that no man is above the law. Today’s indictment prods that mantra into wakefulness and provides some modicum of hope for a resurgence of accountability for the crimes of a former president. 

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