WASHINGTON — Former president Donald Trump was indicted by a New York grand jury on Thursday on charges involving payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter.
Trump, 76, is the first former U.S. president to have ever been charged with a crime.
The specific charges were not immediately made public. The grand jury indictment of Trump is an extraordinary development after years of investigations into his business, political and personal dealings.
Weeks before the indictment, the former president posted on his social media platform Truth Social that his arrest was imminent and called for his supporters to protest. Local law enforcement officials have been bracing for the public safety ramifications of an unprecedented prosecution of a former American president.
Why is Trump being indicted?
In the final weeks of the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s lawyer tried to buy the silence of two women who said they had sexual encounters with the then-Republican candidate for president.
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who was a key witness in the probe led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 through a shell company Cohen set up.
He was then reimbursed by Trump, whose company logged the reimbursements as legal expenses. Cohen got $360,000 plus a $60,000 bonus, for a total of $420,000.
Earlier in 2016, Cohen also arranged for former Playboy model Karen McDougal to be paid $150,000 by the publisher of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer, which squelched her story in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill.”
Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, “grossed up” Cohen’s reimbursement for the Daniels payment for “tax purposes,” according to federal prosecutors who filed criminal charges against the lawyer in connection with the payments in 2018.
Falsifying business records can be a misdemeanor under state law, or a felony if the fudging of paperwork is done in connection with a more serious crime. The specific charges were not immediately made public.
Earlier this month, Bragg offered Trump a chance to testify before a grand jury, but the former president never took the stand.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and that he had any extramarital affairs, and he blasted the probe in a Truth Social post as a “political Witch-Hunt, trying to take down the leading candidate, by the Republican Party."
His lawyers argued he was extorted into paying the money to Daniels and should have been considered the victim of the investigation. Daniels and the lawyers who helped arrange the payment denied extorting anyone.
Weeks before criminal charges were announced, Daniels met with prosecutors and answered questions about the investigation. It was followed up by another Cohen testimony.
What else is Trump being investigated for?
Trump's indictment is just the beginning of his legal troubles.
The former president is facing separate investigations in Georgia and Washington over his efforts to undo the results of the 2020 election. A special counsel appointed by the Justice Department has also been probing the president for his possession of hundreds of classified documents at his Florida home.
New York Attorney General Letitia James has sued Trump and the Trump Organization, alleging they misled banks and tax authorities about the value of assets including golf courses and skyscrapers to get loans and tax benefits.
That lawsuit could lead to civil penalties against the company if James, a Democrat, prevails. She is seeking a $250 million fine and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
A civil trial is scheduled in state court for October.
In a separate civil case in federal court in New York, Trump has been accused of raping a former magazine columnist in a dressing room in the mid-1990s. That case is scheduled to go to trial on April 25.
Trump has repeatedly insisted he never met the columnist, E. Jean Carroll, at the store and has dismissed her rape claims, saying, “Physically she’s not my type.” During an October deposition, he misidentified a decades-old photograph of her as one of his ex-wives.
It is not clear when the investigations will end or whether they might result in more criminal charges. However, they are set to continue regardless of Trump’s indictment in New York.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.