NEW YORK: A New York grand jury has voted to indict former Donald Trump over hush money payments made to a porn star, US media reported Thursday, making him the first ever serving or former president to face criminal charges.
The indictment of the 76-year-old Republican – who denies all wrongdoing in connection with the payments made ahead of the 2016 election – is set to upend the current White House race in which Trump hopes to regain office.
The felony indictment, filed under seal by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, will likely be announced in the coming days, according to The New York Times, which cited four people with knowledge of the matter.
On March 18, Trump had declared he expected to be arrested within days over the payment to Stormy Daniels – who received $130,000 weeks before the 2016 election to stop her from going public about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump a decade earlier.
In predicting his indictment, Trump had issued a call for demonstrations and dark threats warnings that it could lead to “potential death & destruction” that “could be catastrophic for our Country.”
But after days of suspense – setting New York on edge for possible protests – the grand jury panel convened by a Manhattan prosecutor to weigh possible charges continued to hear witnesses, and the prospect of an immediate indictment appeared to recede.
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Trump made no immediate comment on his Truth Social media platform following the grand jury’s reported decision to indict, but his son Eric Trump slammed it as the “opportunistic targeting of a political opponent.”
Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, who has testified before the grand jury, told Congress in 2019 that he made the payment to Daniels on Trump’s behalf and was later reimbursed.
Prosecutors argued the checks were not properly registered, and the jury was asked to consider if the suspect accounting was part of a cover-up, intended to benefit Trump’s election campaign by burying the scandal.
The New York investigation is the first to reach a decision on charges out of three major probes into the former president.
Trump also faces felony investigations in Georgia relating to the 2020 election and in Washington over the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by the ex-president’s supporters, who hoped to keep him in office after his election loss to Joe Biden.
Trump, who is seen to be the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee in the 2024 election, has branded all of the investigations “witch hunts” and political persecutions.
The chasing pack in the White House race, led by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, was initially reticent in its criticism of the ex-reality TV star, but has recently begun attacking his character and the whiff of scandal that surrounds him.
Trump staged his first presidential campaign rally in Texas on Saturday, addressing several thousand supporters – far fewer than the 15,000 he had expected – in the city of Waco, Texas.
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Maintaining the investigation was over “something that is not a crime, not a misdemeanor, not an affair,” Trump told supporters how he had been the victim of “one witch hunt and phony investigation after another.”
“This is really prosecutorial misconduct. That’s what it’s called. The innocence of people makes no difference whatsoever to these radical left maniacs,” he told the rally.