Donald Trump indicted in hush money case
A New York grand jury has voted to indict former US President Donald Trump following an investigation into hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
The indictment makes the 76-year-old the first-ever former US president to be charged with a crime.
Manhattan District Attorney (DA) Alvin Bragg said in a statement that they have contacted Trump's attorney to coordinate his surrender.
"Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected," the statement read.
On March 18, Trump posted on his Truth Social media platform that he was expecting to be arrested within days. New York braced for possible protests by his supporters, but the prospect of an immediate indictment seemed to recede as the grand jury convened and continued to hear witnesses.
What we know about the indictment
The exact charges to be brought against Trump are not yet clear, but Joe Tacopina, a lawyer for the former president, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency that the charges were over payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to avoid a scandal.
Daniels received $130,000 (€119,000) weeks before the election to not go public about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier.
Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, had previously told Congress that he made the payment to Daniels on Trump's behalf and was later reimbursed. Cohen has also testified before the New York grand jury.
Trump has denied the allegations.
The indictment will likely be unsealed by a judge in the coming days.
Trump calls indictment 'election interference'
Vehemently condemning the indictment, Trump said in a statement that it was "political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history."
The former president also viciously attacked Manhattan District Attorney Bragg.
Trump said Bragg was "doing Joe Biden's dirty work."
"I believe this witch-hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden. The American people realize exactly what the radical left Democrats are doing here. Everyone can see it," Trump said.
The charges came as Trump seeks the Republican nomination to run for president again in 2024. He indicated on Thursday that he intended to remain in the race.
DW correspondent in Washington Michaela Küfner described the indictment as a "legal earthquake."
"It will touch at the very least on how firmly people believe in how independent the judiciary works," she said.
It could either help or hinder Trump's presidential bid, she said, adding that most Republican politicians elected into office have come out in his support.
Republicans condemn, Democrats hail
The indictment has been widely criticized by Republicans. Trump's former lawyer Rudy Giuliani described Thursday as a "sad day for America" on Twitter.
Republican US Senator Ted Cruz, meanwhile, described the indictment as a "catastrophic escalation in the weaponization of the justice system."
Eric Trump, the former president's son, told AP the indictment was a "third-world prosecutorial misconduct."
Congress Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the indictment "irreparably" damaged the country "in an attempt to interfere in our presidential election."
Former Vice President Mike Pence described the indictment as an "outrage." In an interview with CNN, he said the move is a "disservice to the country" that will only divide people further.
Meanwhile, Democrat representative Adam Schiff of California said that while the indictment of a former president is unprecedented, "so too is the unlawful conduct in which Trump has been engaged."
Cohen told broadcaster MSNBC that the indictment was "just the beginning," stressing that "accountability really matters."
First indictment, multiple probes
The New York probe is one of several legal challenges facing Trump, but it is the first to reach a decision to charge the former president.
Steven Fish, a political scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, told DW it was important to see what the Democrats would do with the situation.
"What they need to do is point out that this is not just a matter of Trump being Trump but this is a violation of a core tenet of American democracy, which is the rule of law, which means that the rulers, as well as everybody else, have to obey the law."
How Trump reacts to the indictment will also influence how he is perceived by supporters and critics.
"Recently, Trump has gotten whinier and whinier in his public messaging. What made him seem so great to so many people in 2016 and again in 2020 was his supposed strength," Fish said.
"If Trump plays this in a way that makes him look weak and whiny, that could really rebound to the benefit of the Democrats, and the Democrats would be wise to take advantage of that," he added.
Trump is also facing felony investigations in Georgia in connection to the alleged tampering efforts following his 2020 election defeat in the state.
Jack Smith, a war crimes prosecutor, is also overseeing investigations into Trump's handling of classified documents and his alleged efforts to undo the 2020 election.
Trump, who is seeking to return to the White House, has repeatedly claimed that such probes were politically motivated.
fb/sri (Reuters, AFP)