Former United States President Donald Trump faces charges in relation to a New York investigation into an alleged hush-money payment made to a porn star ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
After weeks of speculation, a New York grand jury voted on Thursday to indict Trump, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, making him the first former president to face criminal prosecution in US history.
The specific charges are not yet known, and the indictment will likely be announced in the coming days. The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg issued a statement saying prosecutors are working with Trump’s lawyers to arrange his surrender.
It also affirmed that, for now, the charges will remain under seal. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected,” the district attorney’s office said through a spokesperson.
In a statement released through his 2024 presidential campaign, Trump called the indictment “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history”.
He said the case was part of a coordinated “witch hunt” against him, adding that he is completely innocent.
The New York investigation centres on a $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, made to porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the former president’s 2016 campaign.
Trump said earlier this month that he expected to be arrested in relation to the case.
He called on his supporters to protest in a fiery social media post that raised concerns about potential violence — especially in light of January 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna said the indictment comes at a surprising time, with the New York grand jury last sitting on Monday.
But, he explained, the grand jury could have agreed on the indictment before Thursday’s announcement. “Then it is up to the foreperson of the jury to sign that indictment at any time that the prosecutor wishes to get it signed,” Hanna said.
He added that Trump would be told when he has to appear in Manhattan court, “where he would be fingerprinted and charges formally laid”. But it remains unclear when that would happen, or what the specific charges are.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she had an affair with Trump, who is married. Cohen said he paid her on Trump’s orders.
The former president has denied the affair and said the payment was to protect his reputation from a false accusation, insisting that he did nothing wrong.
Ahead of Thursday’s indictment, several US media outlets had reported that the potential charges relate to the way Trump reimbursed Cohen, with prosecutors alleging he improperly labelled the payments as legal expenses.
If the payment is determined to be a campaign donation, it could also have violated election laws that cap contributions to political candidates at $2,700 per individual and require them to be made public.
Daniels herself celebrated Thursday’s news by thanking her supporters on Twitter, quipping she doesn’t “want to spill my champagne”. Meanwhile, her lawyer, Clark Brewster, said the indictment was “no cause for joy”.
“The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected,” he wrote. “Now let truth and justice prevail.”