NEW YORK — If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you might’ve missed it. Even then, it was hard to know at the moment that history was unfolding before your eyes.
Donald Trump’s indictment, the first of a former U.S. president, was quietly brought to the clerk’s office at the Manhattan criminal courthouse just before closing time Thursday.
A woman and two men in suits walked in past reporters who’ve been staking out the office for weeks, turned a corner and disappeared through a door to a non-public area known as the indictment room.
The vibe in the room shifted, and then around the courthouse, too.
The clerk’s office, normally a bustle of lawyers and paralegals seeking case files and submitting papers, people posting bail and court employees cracking jokes, grew quiet and tense.
Moments later, just before 5 p.m., when a reporter asked if there were any filings involving “People v. Donald Trump” - her customary end-of-day question in recent days - a usually cheerful clerk sternly replied: “We have no information on that case. The office is closing. You have to leave.”
The reporters, from outlets including The Associated Press, The New York Times, New York Post and legal publication Law360, left the office and stood outside in the hallway, watching through glass doors as workers turned out the lights and the people who’d walked in a few minutes earlier worked in darkness inside filing the indictment.
“After visiting the clerk’s office for weeks, this was all very strange,” said Frank G. Runyeon, a reporter for Law360. “Very unusual and we knew something was up.”
As the people continued to work, and reporters peered in at what was going on, court officers came to the hallway and shooed the press away. That floor of the courthouse was now closed, they said.
The indictment remains under seal, its contents secret, likely until Trump is arraigned. But news of the indictment, voted on by a grand jury sitting in a court building across the street from the criminal courthouse, broke shortly after 5 p.m. in The New York Times. It was confirmed minutes later by Trump’s lawyers and ultimately in a brief statement from the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
The indictment was broadly expected for two weeks, with Trump himself even saying he expected to be arrested. Yet it still came as a surprise. Reports in recent days had indicated that the grand jury was about to go on a lengthy, scheduled break and wasn’t expected to be dealing with the Trump matter until late April.
The announcement sent television crews pouring onto the sidewalks around the courthouse complex and brought a handful of demonstrators carrying banners and posters - some who opposed Trump and some that supported him.
Police surrounded the courthouse into the evening, with flood lights illuminating the sidewalk and streets.
Ditte Lynge, who works for a Danish newspaper that has been staking out the courthouse all week, was among the reporters who rushed to the scene.
“Everyone’s following what’s going on over here,” she said of her audience back home. “This is historical. It’s the first time that a former American president has been indicted. So of course, it has a lot of interest.”
• Associated Press writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed to this report.
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