- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2023

A Manhattan grand jury on Thursday indicted former President Donald Trump on charges involving a hush money payment in 2016 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, making Mr. Trump the first former president in history to face criminal charges.

A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, said the prosecutor’s office “contacted Mr. Trump‘s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal.”

The arraignment will likely take place next week.

Mr. Trump, the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, called the indictment “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

The indictment will begin a legal process that will likely require Mr. Trump to go to New York to face the charges. The indictment hasn’t been made public, and New York judges usually keep charges under seal until a defendant makes an initial appearance in court.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to become Mr. Trump‘s toughest rival for the Republican presidential nomination, said his state won’t aid in the extradition of the former president, who lives in Palm Beach. He said Mr. Bragg has a “political agenda” and the weaponization of the justice system is “un-American.”

SEE ALSO: Trump’s indictment, long expected, still stuns at NYC court

Mr. Bragg, whose campaign was backed by megadonor George Soros, sought the indictment over Mr. Trump‘s vociferous assertions of a politically motivated investigation that he called “simply insane.”

Mr. Trump said, in a lengthy statement Thursday evening, that the indictment is a continuation of a long line of groundless investigations against him, including the FBI’s spying on his 2016 campaign, special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe that found no collusion between his campaign and Russia, two impeachments and an ongoing probe into his mishandling of classified documents after he left office.

The indictment over the alleged hush money payment during his first bid for president will undoubtedly affect his current campaign. Mr. Trump said it will make him more popular.

“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,” Mr. Trump said in a statement.

“Never before in our nation’s history has this been done. The Democrats have cheated countless times over the decades, including spying on my campaign, but weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent, who just so happens to be a President of the United States and by far the leading Republican candidate for President, has never happened before. Ever.”

He said the move “will backfire massively on Joe Biden.”

SEE ALSO: Trump indictment: What will the arrest process look like?

“The American people realize exactly what the Radical Left Democrats are doing here,” Mr. Trump said. “Everyone can see it. So our Movement, and our Party — united and strong — will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden, and we are going to throw every last one of these Crooked Democrats out of office so we can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

In a statement confirming the charges, defense lawyers Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina said Mr. Trump “did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in court.”

The state charges in New York won’t legally preclude Mr. Trump from his presidential campaign, even if he were to be convicted. The Constitution is silent on presidential candidates having a criminal record.

The only qualifications are to be a U.S. citizen who is at least 35 years old. The 14th Amendment, passed in the immediate wake of the Civil War, does disqualify people from holding office if they are convicted of insurrection.

Lawyers Ty Cobb and Alan Dershowitz, both of whom represented Mr. Trump during his presidency, said Mr. Bragg will encounter legal problems with the statute of limitations in the 7-year-old case, especially if the indictment is for misdemeanor charges.

The charges were filed more than four years after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who handled the payment for Mr. Trump, was convicted in 2018 and was sentenced to three years in prison.

He has testified in the case against the former president.

Mr. Trump had predicted that he would be arrested last week and called for protests. He has denied the affair.

House Republicans have been demanding that Mr. Bragg answer questions and provide information about his investigation, saying the probe was politically motivated. Mr. Bragg has rebuffed those inquiries, saying his probe wasn’t finished.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, vowed Thursday to hold Mr. Bragg accountable for the unprecedented move.

Alvin Bragg has irreparably damaged our country in an attempt to interfere in our Presidential election,” Mr. McCarthy tweeted. “As he routinely frees violent criminals to terrorize the public, he weaponized our sacred system of justice against President Donald Trump. The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account.”

Mr. Bragg‘s predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., and federal prosecutors chose not to charge Mr. Trump over the hush money allegations.

Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump directed him to pay the pornography actress $130,000 just a few weeks before the 2016 election in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump‘s company reimbursed him for the payments but logged the funds as “legal expenses.” Prosecutors are said to have been weighing whether logging the payments as “legal expenses” violates a New York law against falsifying business records.

The charge is a misdemeanor but can be upgraded to a felony if records were falsified to cover up a second crime. A felony conviction can carry up to four years in prison.

Mr. Trump, in his statement, said Mr. Bragg was “hand-picked and funded by George Soros” and accused him of ignoring street crime in his city.

“Rather than stopping the unprecedented crime wave taking over New York City, he’s doing Joe Biden’s dirty work, ignoring the murders and burglaries and assaults he should be focused on. This is how Bragg spends his time!” Mr. Trump said.

Conservatives quickly rallied to Mr. Trump‘s defense over the indictment. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, responded with a one-word statement: “Outrageous.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a fundraising email, said political prosecutors such as Mr. Bragg “undermine America’s confidence in our legal system.”

“Prosecuting serious crimes keeps Americans safe, but political prosecutions put the American legal system at risk of being viewed as a tool for abuse,” said Mr. Pompeo, a potential rival of Mr. Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primary race. 

Mike Davis, a Republican operative and founder of the Article III Project, called it another example of Democrats’ “witch hunt” against Mr. Trump.

“Soros-funded Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg has been hell-bent for months on indicting Trump for non-felonies, in an obvious attempt to influence the 2024 presidential election,” Mr. Davis said in a statement. “Bragg is now indicting Trump on a bogus, trumped-up felony charge based upon a novel legal theory previously rejected by Bragg himself, the Manhattan DA’s office, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Federal Election Commission.”

He said the indictment “only emboldens Trump and his supporters, along with bolstering his chances to win a second term in the White House.”

Former Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said Mr. Bragg was engaged in “irresponsible and politically-motivated efforts to take him down.”

“A sad day for America,” Mr. Giuliani tweeted.

Sen. J.D. Vance, Ohio Republican, called the indictment “political persecution masquerading as law.” 

Donald Trump is the former President of the United States, the leader of our nation’s political opposition, and the presumptive Republican nominee in 2024,” Mr. Vance said. “Alvin Bragg‘s decision to indict him is blatant election interference and a direct assault on the tens of millions of Americans who support him.”

Trump ally Kari Lake, a former candidate for governor of Arizona, said the indictment of Mr. Trump “will only make him stronger.”

“I didn’t think I could possibly support him more, but this political Witch Hunt only strengthens our resolve to fight,” she said on Twitter. “We’ve got your back, Mr. President.”

The White House had no immediate comment, but Democrats on Capitol Hill and elsewhere applauded.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the California Democrat who was kicked off the intelligence panel for using his position to mislead the public on the Trump-Russia investigation, acknowledged that “the indictment of a former president is unprecedented.”

“But so too is the unlawful conduct in which Trump has been engaged. A nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountable, even when they hold high office. Especially when they do. To do otherwise is not democracy,” he said on Twitter.

Patrick Gaspard, president and CEO at the liberal Center for American Progress, said the indictment proves that “no one is above the law, not even an ex-president.”

“Now the legal process should play out in court without political interference,” he said. “Trump‘s efforts to intimidate prosecutors and call on an angry mob of supporters is yet another disgusting effort to incite violence and prevent the legal system from taking its course.”

“There are several other serious investigations underway into Trump‘s apparent attempt to overturn the election results in Georgia and his actions to incite an insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. If these investigations lead to criminal charges, it’s paramount to let prosecutors, judges, and juries do their jobs and keep politics out of the courtroom.”

Kevin O’Brien, a former assistant U.S. attorney, said the indictment of Mr. Trump is “serious on several levels, even if it winds up only being a misdemeanor charge.”

“First, Trump will have to appear as a defendant in court and answer criminal charges — for the first time,” he said. “He can spin as only he can, but the charges are solemn, public, and voted on by a body of his peers. Second, while Trump will move to dismiss on various grounds, the motions are unlikely to succeed and he will have to submit to a public trial if he wishes to vindicate himself. Third, the indictment may break the spell that has seemingly protected Trump for so long. Other criminal investigations are out there.”

• Joseph Clark and Jeff Mordock contributed to this story.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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