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5 key takeaways from the Trump indictment news

Former president Donald Trump, pictured here at the Conservative Political Action Conference in August, was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on Thursday.
Brandon Bell
/
Getty Images
Former president Donald Trump, pictured here at the Conservative Political Action Conference in August, was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on Thursday.

Updated March 31, 2023 at 4:24 PM ET

Former President Donald Trump has been indicted by a New York grand jury for his role in covering up hush money paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office said it has contacted Trump's attorney "to coordinate his surrender" for arraignment.

Trump is now scheduled to appear in criminal court at 2:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday for the arraignment hearing, a spokesman for the New York office of court administration confirmed to NPR.

The grand jury's indictment — and Trump's charges — remain under seal.

Here are five things to know about the latest news.

1. The grand jury has been investigating Trump for months

Trump is likely to be charged with a violation of New York penal code 175.10, falsifying business records in the first degree, says Kim Wehle, a former U.S. attorney and now a law professor at the University of Baltimore.

"It's quite serious, even if the charge itself doesn't reach the heights that some people would expect from a former president," Wehle told NPR's Adrian Florido on All Things Considered.

Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen negotiated a deal with porn star Stormy Daniels, paying her $130,000 in exchange for keeping quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

Cohen transferred that money to Daniels less than two weeks before the election. And then after Trump won, Trump reimbursed Cohen, including with his own personal checks. Trump has denied having had an affair with Daniels, although he has admitted reimbursing Cohen for money paid to her.

The Trump Organization said that those reimbursement payments were for legal fees, which is not true. In New York, that's a felony if it was done to cover up another crime — in this case, probably the violation of campaign finance laws, Wehle says.

As a Class E felony, a conviction on falsifying business records could come with a prison sentence of up to four years, Wehle said.

2. Trump was asked to surrender — it's unclear if he will

Former President Donald Trump's private airplane, known as Trump Force One, seen parked on the tarmac at the Palm Beach International Airport on Tuesday in Florida.
Giorgio Viera / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump's private airplane, known as Trump Force One, seen parked on the tarmac at the Palm Beach International Airport on Tuesday in Florida.

A spokesperson for Bragg issued a statement Thursday evening saying the office had contacted Trump's attorney to "coordinate his surrender."

"Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected," the spokesperson added.

NPR hasn't been able to independently confirm whether Trump is still in Florida. Two reliable flight trackers have not registered movement on his private plane since the 757 flew to West Palm Beach five days ago.

But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, took to Twitter after the news of the DA's request for Trump to surrender to say that his state would not help arrest and extradite the former president, should it come to that.

Though DeSantis has yet to announce his candidacy, he's widely considered to be a top 2024 Republican presidential contender — and a threat to Trump's bid for reelection.

Earlier this month, DeSantis told reporters he wouldn't get involved in the spectacle "in any way."

"I have no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus by some Soros DA," he said, according to an account from POLITICO, making a reference to billionaire donor George Soros' campaign donations. "He's trying to do a political spectacle ... I've got real issues I've got to deal with here in the state of Florida."

3. Trump and the GOP say the indictment is political persecution

The former president dismissed the Manhattan grand jury's vote to indict him as "political persecution" and "election interference," in a statement on Thursday.

"The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to 'Get Trump,' but now they've done the unthinkable — indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference," the statement from his website reads.

Across the board, Republicans echoed this sentiment, adding fuel to Trump's campaign narrative of political martyrdom.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy tweeted that Bragg has "irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our Presidential election." Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel called the probe a "blatant abuse of power from a DA focused on political vengeance."

House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, issued a one-word statement: "Outrageous."

Earlier this month, Jordan, along with House Oversight Committee Chair Jim Comer, R-Ky., and House Administration Committee Chair Bryan Steil, R-Wis., sent Bragg a letter demanding documents, communications and testimony related to his investigation of the former president.

Bragg's office responded by calling Republican requests for its documents and testimony "an unprecedented inquiry into a pending local prosecution."

4. Democrats and those tied to the probe say it's about accountability

Democrats also rallied around a party message, but theirs was one of the need for blind justice, best summed up by the phrase "no one is above the law."

"No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence," said former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"A nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountable, even when they hold high office. Especially when they do," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a former impeachment manager.

Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and a key witness in the case, also said the indictment shows that "no one is above the law," but took the moment to call for opinion on the matter to be decided in court.

"Now that the charges have been filed, it is better for the case to let the indictment speak for itself," Cohen said. "The two things I wish to say at this time is that accountability matters and I stand by my testimony and the evidence I have provided to [the New York district attorney]."

Clark Brewster, the lawyer for the adult film star whose story started it all, remarked on the indictment on Twitter, saying it "is no cause for joy."

"The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected," he tweeted. "Now let truth and justice prevail."

Daniels herself responded with two words: "Thank you."

5. This could be just the beginning of Trump's legal woes

In light of the speed and significance of this news cycle, it's worth remembering that Trump also faces scrutiny in other investigations that could lead to charges of their own.

A case in Fulton County, Ga., centers on the pressure campaign employed by Trump and his allies in the weeks following the 2020 presidential election.

The Justice Department has interviewed numerous Trump allies and aides for an investigation into Trump's role in igniting the Jan. 6 attack.

And a trove of classified documents has sparked the Justice Department to open a second investigation into Trump.

Not much is known about when charges, if any, would come from these probes.

NPR's Jonathan Franklin, Becky Sullivan and Dana Farrington contributed reporting.

This story was taken from our live blog. Revisit how the news unfolded.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
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