A grand jury in New York State indicted Donald J. Trump Thursday night, making him the first former American president to be charged with a crime.
An indictment is a legal accusation that a person has done a crime. In this case, a grand jury in New York City voted to indict Trump after hearing evidence presented by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The evidence was related to reported wrongdoings during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The indictment comes as Trump faces other legal investigations while launching a third presidential campaign for 2024.
Trump denied any wrongdoing and called the investigations political “witch hunts” to damage his campaign.
For several months, the grand jury heard evidence about Trump. The details of the charge or charges against him are unknown. However, the investigation has centered on a $130,000 payment made in 2016 to adult movie actress Stormy Daniels.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, was one of the witnesses before the grand jury. Cohen has said that he made the payment to Daniels to keep her from telling in public about a sexual relationship she said she had with Trump years earlier.
Cohen also said Trump’s business called the Trump Organization repaid the money with Trump’s knowledge and claimed them as legal expenses. Trump first denied knowing anything about the payment. After records of the payment came out, Trump described it as a “simple private transaction.”
Cohen also said he arranged for another woman, former adult magazine model Karen McDougal, to be paid $150,000, to suppress a story similar to Daniels.
Former National Enquirer newspaper publisher David Pecker was another witness before the grand jury. He had earlier said that payments were made to suppress stories that could hurt Trump’s 2016 campaign.
In 2018, Cohen admitted guilt to several federal criminal charges, including campaign finance violations, and later served more than a year in prison. Federal prosecutors said at the time that the payments amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign. They said Cohen had acted at Trump’s direction.
Trump was also invited to appear before the New York City grand jury, but he chose not to.
What are the charges against Trump?
It is unclear what the charges are against Trump since the indictment has not been made public. But CNN reported on Thursday that the former president faced more than 30 charges related to business fraud.
Some legal experts have said they believe Trump could be charged with falsifying business records. Under New York State’s law, that can be a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge. A felony is more serious and carries a higher penalty.
To get a conviction on the felony charge, Manhattan prosecutors would have to prove that records were falsified to do or hide a second crime. It is not clear what prosecutors may declare as the second crime. One possibility is a violation of federal campaign finance law.
Reactions to the charges
Joe Tacopina is currently representing Trump. He said Trump did no crime and accused prosecutors of “distorting laws” for political reasons. He said Trump paid the money because the reports were going to be embarrassing to him “regardless of the campaign.”
Many members of Trump’s Republican Party have come to his defense. But Democratic Party members are urging to let the legal system move ahead.
Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, said of the indictment, “This is more about revenge than it is justice.” Haley has announced her candidacy for the 2024 presidential election.
Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote on Twitter, “The Grand Jury has acted upon the facts and the law. No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence.”
What happens next?
In a statement, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said it has contacted Trump's lawyer to organize his surrender.
Trump’s lawyer Tacopina told NBC News that the former president is “likely” to turn himself in on Tuesday.
As news of the indictment came out, Trump asked supporters to help with his legal defense.
"Please make a contribution – of truly any amount – to defend our movement from the never-ending witch hunts and WIN the WHITE HOUSE in 2024," said an email sent by the Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee.
The New York case is just one of many legal problems Trump is facing.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the treatment of top-secret government documents when Trump left the White House in 2021. Federal investigators are also looking into Trump’s possible responsibility in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021.
In Georgia, the Fulton County District Attorney’s office has been investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally interfered in the 2020 election. A person who served in that grand jury said last month that the body had suggested indictments to several people which could include Trump.
I'm Anna Mateo. And I'm Gregory Stachel.
Hai Do wrote this story for Learning English based on reporting from VOA News, The Associated Press and Reuters.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the attack on the U.S. Capitol building.
Words in This Story
arrange - v. to organize things in a particular order
prosecutor - n. government lawyer in a court case that accuses a person of a crime and tries to prove that the person is guilty
fraud - n. the crime of using dishonest methods to gain something
conviction - n. the act of proving that a person is guilty in a court of law
distort - v. to change something so that it is no long true or accurate
embarrassing - adj. feeling confused and foolish