On March 30, 2023, Donald Trump, the former president of the United States, was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury. This is for his alleged role in a scandal stemming from hush money payments made to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels. It is reported that this occurred before the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with the scheme that directed hush money payments to the two women. The 16-page indictment against Trump was unsealed on Tuesday, April 4. He became the first former U.S. president ever to be arraigned on criminal charges. “Not guilty,” Trump said from his seat to Judge Juan Merchan during the hearing in Manhattan Supreme Court. His attorney, Joe Tacopina, said on Sunday that the former president will eventually move to have the charges dismissed.
According to the indictment, those payments were part of a broader scheme to suppress claims by porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. They allegedly engaged in sexual activity with Trump, and payments were made in an effort to prevent their allegations from harming Trump’s chances of defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
ABC News asked legal experts their thoughts on the indictment and statement of facts document unsealed Tuesday in the Manhattan district attorney’s case against former President Donald Trump.
According to Lance Fletcher, a former assistant district attorney at the Manhattan DA’s Office, the indictment “discusses an intent to defraud. As well as an intent to commit another crime, but does not specify what that other crime is.” Fletcher continued to say that “This is an important issue because the intent to defraud and the intent to commit another crime are what bump this up from a misdemeanor to a felony.”
Michael Bachner, a former assistant district attorney in the rackets bureau of the Manhattan DA’s Office, said the only surprising thing about the indictment was that “it was expanded to include [former Playboy model] Karen McDougal.” Bachner says, “The theory of the prosecution is exactly as we expected, and that is that there was a scheme to bury stories through this catch-and-kill process in order to help Donald Trump get elected and that these payments were in the campaign contributions, which were improperly buried.”
Donald J. Trump’s Indictment by ABC News Politics ABC News Politics
Trump appeared at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Tuesday to formally face charges. He is the first former U.S. president to be charged with a crime.
What are the charges against Trump?
Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records under Article 175 of the New York Penal Law. Falsifying business records is a felony in New York when there is an “intent to defraud.” That includes an intent to “commit another crime or to aid or conceal” a crime. In this case, prosecutors will have to prove that Trump is guilty of maintaining false business records with the intent to hide a $130,000 payment in the days before the 2016 election to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged 2006 affair.
If convicted of the felony bookkeeping fraud charge, Trump faces up to four years in prison for each count. The judge could impose consecutive sentences, meaning Trump would have to serve them one after the other. The charge does not carry a mandatory prison sentence, however. Even if convicted on all counts, Trump would not necessarily face jail time. As a first-time offender with no criminal record, legal experts say, it is uncertain whether the former president and 2024 White House candidate would be sentenced to prison if convicted.
Is Trump charged with 34 different crimes?
No, the indictment lists 34 felony counts under the same New York statute. Each count represents a separate instance of alleged misconduct but not a different type of crime. Daniels was paid by then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who was reimbursed by Trump after the election. The indictment details false entries in the Trump Organization’s general ledger and checks paid to Cohen in 2017 that prosecutors say were falsely recorded as payments for legal services.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said at a news conference after the court hearing that the alleged scheme was intended to cover up violations of New York election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to illegally promote a candidate. Bragg also said the $130,000 payment exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap.
Under New York law, most nonviolent felonies must be charged within five years of the alleged misconduct. Legal experts say the statute-of-limitations clock could be paused under certain circumstances. This includes the period in which a defendant moves out of the state.
Trump’s next in-person court appearance is set for Dec. 4. The defense counsel asked the judge to waive Trump’s appearance. The judge acknowledged that Tuesday’s hearing was a “huge undertaking”. However, he said he would not immediately excuse Trump’s appearance. He also said he would deny for the time being the defense counsel’s request “in the interest of transparency.” Prosecutors asked for a trial date in January 2024. Donald Trump’s legal team called that timeline “too aggressive” and suggested spring 2024 as an alternative. Judge Juan Merchan did not weigh in.
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