According to the media, a so-called grand jury in New York voted to indict former US President Donald Trump in connection with hush money payments to a porn actress. The US media reported this on Thursday evening (local time) - the exact charges and details are still unclear. Never before in US history has an ex-president been charged with a crime.
Trump had paid hush money to the actress shortly before his election as president in 2016 - this could conflict with campaign finance rules. A 23-member grand jury will decide whether to press charges after the prosecutors present evidence. Trump had recently claimed that he should be arrested - and called on his supporters to protest.
The ex-president himself reacted with outrage at the indictment. "This is political persecution and electoral interference at the highest level in history," the Republican said in a written statement on Thursday evening (local time).
Does his party have support?
A trial and a potential conviction that could see the Republican face several years in prison could politically jeopardize his plans to run for president again -- in terms of support from his party and the Republican base. In purely legal terms, on the other hand, Trump could theoretically also stand as a convicted criminal in the 2024 presidential election, as legal experts emphasize.
The case involves hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. Daniels says he had sex with Trump in 2006. For his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, the indictment is "just the beginning". Now you have to let the indictment speak for itself, said Cohen on Thursday in a statement that was available to US media. "However, I find it comforting to see the adage that no one is above the law, not even a former president," Cohen said. He stands by his statement in the case.
Cohen has since renounced his former client. According to his own statements, in 2016 he paid hush money to the porn actress Stormy Daniels on behalf of Trump in order to avert damage from his boss in the presidential election campaign. Trump and his attorneys have conceded payment but deny Trump had anything to do with the actress. Trump and his attorneys have conceded payment. However, the Republican denies having anything to do with the porn actress and insists that the payment had nothing to do with campaign funds.
The ex-president described the investigations in New York as a "witch hunt". Most recently, the 76-year-old claimed in a social media post that his arrest was imminent. At the same time he called on his followers to resist: "Protest, take our nation back!". New York then prepared for possible protests and increased security around the courthouse in downtown Manhattan.
The exact procedure is still completely open
Trump's environment had assured in advance that the ex-president would follow the usual procedure should there be an indictment - and would also voluntarily appear in court to find out details of possible charges. So there would be no reason for a sensational arrest. It is considered likely that Trump will be able to return home after the usual formal impeachment procedures. It was initially unclear whether there would be footage of Trump in handcuffs or police photos of him being published.
The case involves a possible crime related to campaign finance ahead of the 2016 US election. Cohen pleaded guilty in court in 2018 to multiple counts, including violating campaign finance laws -- for paying hush money to Daniels and another woman . In December 2018, Cohen was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.
In Trump's case, the question now is whether the Republican wanted to hide several reimbursement payments to Cohen. While hush money payments are not illegal in the United States, prosecutors could present Daniels' $130,000 as a campaign donation illegal in New York State. Finally, the prosecutors could argue that the hush money directly benefited his candidacy.
Serious allegations from ex-lawyer Cohen
In a trial, Cohen would probably be the key witness to Trump's incrimination. He worked for him for more than a decade and was a central figure in several affairs involving the Republican. Cohen was often described as Trump's "cleanser" until the two broke up. In court and in the US Congress, Cohen made serious allegations against Trump, who is also facing a number of other investigations - including the attack on the US Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021.
Before Congress in 2019, Cohen substantiated his allegations that he had paid hush money to Daniels and the other woman on behalf of Trump. Cohen says Trump personally ordered hush money refunded to him when he was already president. So he accused Trump of criminal behavior in office. Cohen said Trump has a habit of not voicing certain instructions directly, but expressing them in a kind of "code" that he followed.
Democrat Adam Schiff called the charges "unprecedented." "But that also applies to the illegal behavior in which Trump was involved," wrote the US MP on Twitter on Thursday (local time). "The rich and powerful" must also be held accountable - even if they hold high office. Anything else is not democracy. Schiff led the prosecution team in Trump's first impeachment trial. Trump regularly insults the Democrat.