By Kate Scanlon
WASHINGTON (OSV News) — According to media reports, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict former President Donald Trump on March 30 for his alleged role in paying hush money to an adult film actress in the closing days of the 2016 campaign, marking the first time in American history that a current or former president has faced criminal charges.
News of the grand jury’s vote, first reported by the New York Times and attributed to multiple sources familiar with the matter, will likely shake up Trump’s third bid for the White House, possibly making for a more competitive primary process. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Catholic Republican, is expected to run against Trump but has not formally declared his candidacy.
Should Trump again win the Republican nomination, his indictment could hurt his chances in a 2024 general election against President Joe Biden, a Catholic Democrat expected to seek a second term. An indictment or conviction would not legally bar Trump from running for office, although such a mark on his record could likely prove difficult to overcome with voters outside of his core base of supporters.
In a statement, Trump said the grand jury voted to indict a “completely innocent person” in an attempt to influence the 2024 campaign.
“I believe this Witch-Hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden,” Trump said. “The American people realize exactly what the Radical Left Democrats are doing here. Everyone can see it.”
In a subsequent social media post, Trump likened the United States to a “A THIRD WORLD NATION.”
Prosecutors did not immediately disclose the specific charges Trump would face, but their investigation concerns a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed she slept with the married Trump in 2006, a claim he has denied. Trump characterized his reimbursement of the payout by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, as legal expenses.
Cohen, who was sentenced to prison in December 2018 after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress in connection with the case, said in a statement that “for the first time in our country’s history, a president (current or former) of the United States has been indicted.”
“I take no pride in issuing this statement and wish to also remind everyone of the presumption of innocence; as provided by the due process clause,” Cohen said. “However, I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former President. Today’s indictment is not the end of this chapter; but rather, just the beginning. Now that the charges have been filed, it is better for the case to let the indictment speak for itself. 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 district attorney’s office).”
Trump is expected to go through the mechanics of felony arrest processing in New York, including being fingerprinted and photographed. His mug shot, some allies indicated, may be used in fundraising efforts, as Trump and his allies have sought to paint the investigation as politically motivated, calling it a witch hunt.
Earlier this month, Trump posted on his social media website Truth Social that he expected to be indicted and called for his supporters to protest.
A Quinnipiac University national poll released March 29, prior to news of the indictment, found that a majority of Americans think criminal charges should disqualify Trump from running for president again.
Trump also faces separate legal challenges, including investigations into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. Trump has made repeated claims of systemic election fraud, claiming without evidence the election was stolen from him.