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Grand jury votes for historic indictment of Donald Trump in hush-money case

Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

A Manhattan grand jury has voted to make former President Donald Trump the first U.S. president in history to face criminal charges, in the first of three investigations to produce an indictment, in a development first reported by The New York Times.

Trump’s attorney Alina Habba issued a statement to Law&Crime.

“A former president, a current candidate and my friend President Donald J. Trump is a victim of a corrupt and distorted version of the American Justice system and history,” Habba said in a statement. “He will be vindicated.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Times says that the case will be announced in the coming days.

Legal experts have long expected that some form of criminal charges against the former president would be imminent. The New York Times reported that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg invited Trump to testify before the grand jury investigating him, an act widely interpreted as the final step before an indictment.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has been investigating Trump since 2019, after his ex-fixer Michael Cohen testified that the former president misrepresented his assets to reap tax benefits. The investigation began under Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus Vance and has experienced numerous twists and turns, including the resignations of two top-ranking prosecutors and the guilty plea of a trusted Trump associate.

New York prosecutors previously indicted the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg on fraud charges, successfully convicting both of them. But at least until now, Bragg’s office declined to charge Trump, infuriating the office’s former senior prosecutors Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne.

In February 2022, both men resigned, and Pomerantz wrote a book titled: “People v. Trump,” named after a criminal case that, at least at the time, never was. Cohen, who has met with the DA’s office at least 20 times, repeatedly swiped at Bragg as a prosecutor. Then, the two apparently mended their relationship. Facing intense criticism from Trump opponents, Bragg long insisted that his investigation against Trump remained active. News accounts suggested that the district attorney’s sights pivoted from the tax issue to alleged hush-money payments to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels.

When Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in paying $130,000 to Daniels to silence her alleged affair with Trump in 2018, federal prosecutors said he did so in “coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1” — a thinly veiled reference to the then-president.

To execute the payment, Cohen took out a home equity line of credit from First National Bank and funneled it through the shell company Essential Consultants LLC, which in turn paid Daniels’ then-attorney, Keith Davidson. That payment was marked as a “retainer.” The $420,000 in reimbursement payments were designated as “legal expenses,” and Cohen produced one of the Trump-signed checks he received to Congress.

The Department of Justice, however, never prosecuted Trump and gave a non-prosecution agreement to the National Enquirer’s corporate parent, American Media Inc.

Manhattan prosecutors, however, reportedly focused on whether Trump and his company falsified internal records to hide the reimbursement to Cohen. Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor under New York law, which can be elevated to a felony if prosecutors prove Trump’s “intent to defraud” included an intent to commit or conceal a second crime.

Once unsealed, the indictment will become the first gauntlet thrown by one of the prosecutors investigating the 45th president. The Department of Justice’s special counsel Jack Smith has been looking into the handling of classified information and his role in the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis spent the better part of a year investigating attempts by Trump and his allies to subvert President Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia. The special grand jury recommended indictments, but the details concerning those charges remain under seal.

In a courtroom hearing, Willis told a judge that her charging decisions were “imminent.”

She made that remark on Jan. 24, 2023, without showing her hand since that time.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."