For the first time in the history of the United States, a former president has been indicted for a crime.
On Thursday, March 30th, a Manhattan grand jury issued a formal indictment of former President Donald J. Trump (he/him) on 34 counts of business fraud. The charges stem from an affair the business mogul allegedly had with adult actress Stormy Daniels (she/her) in 2006. During the 2016 election, Trump’s then attorney Michael Cohen (he/him) offered Daniels $130,000 in order to stop her from speaking with the press. Trump has repeatedly denied that the affair ever happened, but the payment itself occurred. In 2018, Cohen pled guilty to campaign finance violations and went to prison for three years. The pretenses of the payment, and whether it was falsely recorded, are the highly-debated core of the case.
While “hush money” is not illegal, Trump’s repayment to Cohen was allegedly incorrectly listed as “legal fees,” which would violate New York state law. The proximity of the payment to the 2016 election may also be at issue.
Many are speculating how the indictment will affect Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. There is nothing legally preventing him from running, and many Republicans have rallied around him. Under fears that Trump would be extradited from Florida, supporters put pressure on Governor Ron DeSantis (R, he/him). However, DeSantis abstained from taking a definitive stance on the matter. In a tweet on March 30th, he stated he would not cooperate with an extradition request. He also declared that “weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head.” But at a press conference on March 21st, DeSantis also appeared to take a jab at Trump, saying, “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.” His noncommittal attitude may be attributed to the possibility of him running for president in 2024. While he has not made an official statement signaling an intent to run for office, many high-ranking members have seen DeSantis as the likely front-runner for the party, after the midterm elections saw some Trump-endorsed candidates defeated in their respective elections.
Although Trump had previously claimed he would be arrested for the indictment, his attorneys negotiated a surrender. Trump was arraigned at the Lower Manhattan courthouse on April 4th. As usually occurs during arraignments for criminal trials, Trump was processed (mugshots and fingerprints), heard the charges against him read, and entered a plea of not guilty on all counts. Arraignment is only the first step in the criminal process, and a trial date may not be set for months.