Former US President Donald Trump could face charges in New York this week for covering up hush money payments to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign, nearly seven years after the alleged affair.
In a social media post Saturday, Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024, said he expected to be arrested Tuesday and called on his followers to protest, though a spokesman later said Trump was not has been notified of any pending arrest.
The investigation surrounding the former president centers on a $130,000 payment Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, made to porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning days of Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Who is Stormy Daniels?
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, is an American adult film actress who has received a lot of media attention in recent years. She first rose to prominence in 2018 when it was revealed she was paid by Cohen to remain silent about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
The scandal surrounding the alleged affair and subsequent hush money payment made international headlines and led to a legal battle between Daniels and the president’s camp. Daniels filed a lawsuit to have the nondisclosure agreement (NDA) declared invalid, claiming that Trump never signed the agreement and was therefore not legally binding.
Despite efforts to keep the story quiet, Daniels has become an outspoken critic of the former president and his administration. She continued to speak out about her alleged meeting with Trump, drawing attention to issues such as campaign finance violations and the use of non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of sexual assault.
The mother of a child remains a controversial figure in American politics and popular culture.
How did the case go?
Daniels first described her alleged rendezvous with Trump in 2011 during an interview with In Touch Weekly magazine.
She said she met Trump at a charity golf tournament in July 2006 and claimed the pair once had sex in his hotel room on Lake Tahoe, a resort town between California and Nevada.
He didn’t seem concerned about it. He was kind of arrogant,” she said in response to the interviewer’s question whether Trump had told her to keep quiet about their supposed night together.
The magazine initially did not publish the story after legal threats from Trump’s attorney Cohen, according to CBS News’ 60 Minutes program. The magazine finally published the piece in 2018, weeks before Daniels told 60 Minutes that she had been threatened shortly after agreeing to speak to the magazine in 2011.
She said she later accepted $130,000 in “hush money” from Cohen a month before the 2016 election because she was concerned for her family’s safety.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to campaign finance violations related to arranging payments to Daniels and another woman, among other crimes. He has said that Trump directed him to make the payment.
Cohen testified before the grand jury on Monday and again on Wednesday, according to his attorney, Lanny Davis. Grand jury proceedings are not public. Federal prosecutors suing Cohen said in court documents that the payments were falsely recorded for legal departments.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg also reportedly presented evidence to a New York grand jury about a $130,000 payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence over an alleged affair, Reuters sources said.
How has Trump responded?
Trump has denied the affair and his attorney has accused Daniels of racketeering.
He has also accused Bragg, an elected Democrat, of attacking him for political gain and could seek to have the charges dropped on those grounds.
Trump would likely take other avenues as well, some of which could pose thorny legal issues that take time to resolve.
Where are studies located?
Daniels met with and answered questions from Manhattan prosecutors investigating the payment, and is willing to testify, her attorney, Clark Brewster, tweeted March 15.
Daniels thanked him on Twitter for “helping me in our ongoing fight for truth and justice”.
The New York Times, citing sources, has reported that the most likely charges against Trump would be falsifying business records, which is generally a felony.
To make that charge a felony, prosecutors must prove that Trump falsified records to cover up a second crime. One possibility, according to the Times, is that prosecutors could argue that the payment itself violated state campaign finance law, since it was in fact an illegal secret donation to boost his campaign.
Using state election law to raise a charge of false business records is an untested legal theory, experts said, and Trump’s lawyers would certainly challenge it.
Trump could also dispute whether the statute of limitations — in this case, five years — should have expired. Under New York law, the statute of limitations can be extended if the defendant has been out of state, but Trump could argue that serving as US president should not apply.
What could happen next?
In the short term, any indictment would require Trump to travel to the District Attorney’s office in downtown New York to surrender. In white-collar cases, the defendant’s lawyers and prosecutors usually agree on a date and time, rather than arresting the person at home.
Trump would have his fingerprints and mugshot taken and would appear in court. According to experts, he would probably be released on his own initiative and allowed to go home.
Trump’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, told CNBC on Friday that Trump would surrender if indicted. If Trump refuses to enter voluntarily, prosecutors could seek his extradition from Florida, where he currently resides.
If indicted, Trump would become the first former US president to face criminal charges. Polls show he leads other potential rivals for the Republican nomination, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to bid for the White House.
The average New York criminal case takes more than a year to go from indictment to trial, and Trump’s case is far from typical. That raises the possibility that Trump will face trial in the middle of the 2024 presidential campaign, or even after Election Day. If elected, he would not have the power to pardon himself from state charges.