New York Post | by Elizabeth Rosner, Ben Feuerherd, Joe Marino and Patrick Reilly | March 26, 2023
The Manhattan grand jury hearing evidence in the Stormy Daniels “hush money” investigation on Thursday voted to indict the former president, two sources with knowledge of the case told The Post.
The sealed indictment was filed with the clerk’s office Thursday evening — setting the stage for the first-ever criminal prosecution of a former US president, the sources said. The specific charges were not made public.
Trump, 76, is expected to surrender to law enforcement next week, his attorneys told The Post.
The ex-commander-in-chief was caught off guard by the sudden decision — after it was reported Wednesday that the grand jury planned to recess at least through the Passover and Easter holidays.
“Is this a shock today? Hell yes,” a source who spoke directly with the former president told CNN.
In a seething statement, Trump blasted the indictment as “election interference.”
“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” he said in a statement.
“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,” the ex-President added.
Trump’s attorneys Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina told The Post that Trump “did not commit any crime” and vowed to “vigorously fight this political prosecution in court.”
The grand jury that returned the unprecedented indictment had since January been hearing evidence and witness testimony related to a hush-money payment made on Trump’s behalf to porn star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign.
It comes as Trump is attempting to regain the White House for a third time, running for the 2024 Republican nomination.
He has blasted the investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office as a “political Witch-Hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party” and insisted “I did absolutely nothing wrong.”
“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,” ” a spokesperson for Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said in a statement. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”
Bragg was spotted leaving his office in Lower Manhattan at around 7 p.m. Thursday night and getting into black SUV before driving off with an escort of two police cars with lights and sirens.
His exit came about two hours after the unprecedented indictment was filed. At about 5 p.m. two men and a woman walked behind a desk at the Manhattan criminal clerk’s office where indictments are filed. The office then quickly closed and the office employees asked reporters to leave the premises.
Trump, who announced earlier this month he expected to be arrested March 21 and called on his supporters to protest, also accused Bragg, a Democrat, of “prosecutorial misconduct,” and claimed any charges brought against him would be barred by statute of limitations.
In the lead up to the 2016 election, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair she had with the New York real estate mogul in 2006.
Trump denies the affair.
Daniels’ attorney Clifford Brewster said in a statement that the indictment against Trump “is not cause for joy.”
“The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected. Now let truth and justice prevail. No one is above the law. #teamstormy,” he tweeted.
Cohen pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court in 2018 and was sentenced to three years in prison for crimes related to the Daniels payment and another to model Karen McDougal he helped arrange prior to the election.
Trump, who was president at the time of Cohen’s guilty plea, did not face charges by federal prosecutors over the payments.
The Manhattan DA’s office then launched its probe into the Republican, with the case gaining momentum in recent months.
“For the first time in our Country’s history, a President (current or former) of the United States has been indicted,” Cohen told The Post in a statement Thursday evening. “I take no pride in issuing this statement and wish to also remind everyone of the presumption of innocence; as provided by the due process clause.
“However, I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former President,” he continued. “Today’s indictment is not the end of this chapter; but rather, just the beginning. Now that the charges have been filed, it is better for the case to let the indictment speak for itself. The two things I wish to say at this time is that accountability matters and I stand by my testimony and the evidence I have provided to DANY.”
Bragg had reportedly been building a case based on the Daniels payment being made with the intent to conceal or commit another crime.
Several figures close to Trump were spotted in March heading into the DA’s office for meetings with prosecutors, including his former political adviser Kellyanne Conway and ex-spokesperson Hope Hicks, as well as Cohen.
Cohen paid Daniels personally, but was reimbursed by the Trump Organization under the guise of legal expenses — leading federal prosecutors to charge the money had been falsely accounted for.
Robert Costello, a lawyer loyal to Trump, also testified before the grand jury last week. He briefly advised Cohen when he was being raided by the FBI in 2018.
After more than two hours of testimony, Costello told reporters that Cohen told him he had masterminded the hush-money agreement all by himself, without consulting Trump.
Cohen told him he drew up the payment agreement with Daniels’ lawyers and used a loan to cover it, saying he “wanted to keep this secret, even secret” from his wife, Costello said.
In addition to the “hush money” payment Trump allegedly made to cover his affair with Daniels, the grand jury also asked about a separate $150,000 “catch and kill” payment Trump made to a former Playboy model — suggesting that the former president could be charged in connection to both payments, sources confirmed to The Post.
Prosecutors have asked grand jury witnesses about the $150,000 “catch-and-kill” payment made to former Playboy model Karen McDougal in 2016 to keep her quiet about her claims she had a 10-month affair with the former president in 2006.
Cohen was questioned about McDougal when he testified before the grand jury, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.
David Pecker – the former publisher of the National Enquirer – testified twice before the grand jury, as recently as Monday about how the tabloid, through parent company American Media Inc., bought the publishing rights to McDougal’s affair claims but never reported on it.
Bragg’s case hinges on the allegation that the crime of falsifying business records — bookkeeping fraud — was done in the commission of another crime, a campaign finance violation, The New York Times reported in March.
Bragg has refused to cooperate with Republican members of Congress’ probe into his Trump investigation.
The DA denied lawmakers’ request that he hand over documents and testify about what they called an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.”
An attorney for Bragg responded that the committee had no basis for a congressional inquiry as he was constitutionally obligated to protect the enforcement of state laws free from federal interference and accused them of acting on Trump’s behalf.
The Republicans, led by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, shot back at Bragg in a letter last week that Trump’s indictment “by an elected local prosecutor of the opposing political party (and who will face the prospect of re-election) implicates substantial federal interests.”
The Times reported the charge would amount to a “low level” felony.
If Trump is convicted of bookkeeping fraud as a felony he could face up to four years in prison.
The charge usually has a five-year statute of limitations as a felony, but those are extended when a defendant continuously lives out of state, as Trump did during his presidency, the Times reported.
The statute of limitations was also extended by more than a year in New York due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump in mid-March was invited by Bragg’s office to testify before the grand jury. His attorney, Joseph Tacopina, at the time waved off the invitation as “much ado about nothing,” saying he didn’t believe the Democratic DA had a case.
“It’s just another example of them weaponizing the justice system against him. And it’s sort of unfair,” he said.
The former president would have to appear in Manhattan court in person as opposed to a virtual hearing. A source close to Trump told The Post that if an indictment comes down, “Trump would surrender in Florida and fly to New York to be arraigned.”
A state courts rep told the Post last week they “are not doing criminal cases, including arraignments, virtually.”
In addition to the Manhattan case, Trump is facing far-reaching legal exposure on a number of fronts.
In Georgia, a local prosecutor is investigating whether or not he committed a crime in an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.
He also faces a federal investigation headed by a special counsel who is probing his handling of classified materials after leaving the White House and his involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Trump has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, calling the probes into him a “witch hunt.”
Additional reporting by Larry Celona and Priscilla DeGregory
Source: Donald Trump indicted in Stormy Daniels hush money probe by Manhattan grand jury (nypost.com)