Former President Donald Trump, already under multiple criminal investigations for his coup attempt, has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury for his role in a $130,000 hush money payment to a porn star in the days before the 2016 election.
The New York Times was the first to report on the still-sealed indictment on Thursday.
Trump, in a statement filled with his trademark random capitalizations, called District Attorney Alvin Bragg a “disgrace” who was “funded by George Soros,” and again called the indictment part of a supposed “witch hunt” that government officials at multiple levels have conducted against him over several years.
“Never before in our Nation’s history has this been done,” Trump said in the statement, which his campaign sent out in an email. “This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”
Bragg’s office on Thursday evening released a statement saying that an arraignment date has not yet been set.
“This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal,” the statement said, referring to the trial level court in New York state. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”
Though it is certain that Trump’s hush money payment is referenced in the indictment, based on grand jury appearances by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and others, it is unclear whether the indictment pertains only to that episode or to other business dealings as well. CNN reported Thursday night that a total of 34 counts are included in the indictment, suggesting that other instances of alleged business fraud may be included.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is expected to declare his presidential candidacy later this spring, joined in the chorus of pro-Trump Republicans attacking Bragg, and said he would not help the state of New York arrest Trump, should he refuse to turn himself in for the arraignment. Trump spends his winters at his Mar-a-Lago country club in Palm Beach, Florida, though he typically moves to his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, an hour’s drive west of Manhattan, shortly after Easter.
“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” DeSantis wrote Thursday from his official government Twitter account.
Taylor Budowich, a former Trump aide and now the head of a pro-Trump super PAC, claimed in a Twitter post that the indictment is evidence of a “failed nation,” and predicted it would actually help Trump.
“The political elites and powerbrokers have weaponized government to try and stop him. They will fail. He will be re-elected in the greatest landslide in American history,” Budowich wrote.
Trump, who is running again for the Republican nomination for the presidency, has in recent days ramped up his appeals to supporters to rise up against prosecutors in New York and elsewhere ― reminiscent of his inflammatory language leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of his followers.
“IT’S TIME!!!” Trump wrote in one of multiple posts in all capital letters earlier this month. “WE JUST CAN’T ALLOW THIS ANYMORE. THEY’RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA! PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
In another post, Trump predicted he would be arrested on Tuesday, March 21, forcing New York City police to increase security at the courthouse. Then, when no indictment came, Trump and others suggested that Bragg must have backed down.
Trump posted, again in all capital letters, on Wednesday: “I HAVE GAINED SUCH RESPECT FOR THIS GRAND JURY, & PERHAPS EVEN THE GRAND JURY SYSTEM AS A WHOLE. THE EVIDENCE IS SO OVERWHELMING IN MY FAVOR, & SO RIDICULOUSLY BAD FOR THE HIGHLY PARTISAN & HATEFUL DISTRICT ATTORNEY, THAT THE GRAND JURY IS SAYING, HOLD ON, WE ARE NOT A RUBBER STAMP, WHICH MOST GRAND JURIES ARE BRANDED AS BEING, WE ARE NOT GOING TO VOTE AGAINST A PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE OR AGAINST LARGE NUMBERS OF LEGAL SCHOLARS ALL SAYING THERE IS NO CASE HERE. DROP THIS SICK WITCH HUNT, NOW!”
The indictment in New York City gives Trump, who frequently claimed that his actions as president were “historic,” another claim to history: He is now the first of the United States’ 44 ex-chief executives to be charged with a crime. He had previously entered the history books by becoming the only president to be impeached twice.
One of his lawyers at the time, Cohen, already pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating campaign finance laws with the check to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about the affair she says she had with Trump in 2006. Cohen served 13 months in prison and another year and a half under home confinement for that and various unrelated charges.
Cohen is likely to be a key witness against Trump in Bragg’s prosecution. He has said Trump reimbursed him for the $130,000, as well as $150,000 to a second woman, with a series of payments, and evidence during his case showed the money came from Trump’s business as a supposed “legal expense.”
Trump has claimed that Bragg’s probe is a part of a “witch hunt” against him ― the same claim he has used regarding the other criminal investigations he faces, as well as his unprecedented two impeachments by the House. He has also called Bragg, who is Black, a “racist.”
Trump originally denied that he had any knowledge of the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. Then, after Cohen released a tape of a conversation with Trump about the matter, he said that what Cohen did was not illegal.
More recently, after he was given an opportunity to testify before the New York City grand jury hearing the evidence against him, he came up with a new claim: that Daniels was actually blackmailing him.
“I relied on counsel in order to resolve this Extortion of me, which took place a long time ago,” he said in a March 9 post on his own social media platform, Truth Social.
Trump’s staff did not respond to a HuffPost query about that claim.
The former president is also under investigation by the Fulton County District Attorney in Atlanta and the U.S. Department of Justice about his attempts to overturn the 2020 election he lost by pressuring his own vice president into throwing out the results from key states and awarding Trump a second term ― an effort that culminated in the violence he incited on Jan. 6, 2021.
The Justice Department is also conducting a probe into Trump’s refusal to turn over top secret documents he was keeping at his country club in Palm Beach, in defiance of a subpoena.
Despite his unprecedented actions to end American democracy and despite all the criminal investigations, Trump is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and is leading in most polls.