A New York judge will soon unseal criminal charges against Donald Trump over a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. The alleged coverup that followed the payment is likely to be as important for the future of the case, the Wall Street Journal reports.
A Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump after an investigation of the hush-money payment to Daniels in the final stretch of his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 to keep her from going public with a story of a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier.
Trump is expected to appear in court on Tuesday, but any potential trial is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign, Reuters reports.
A Trump attorney said the former president will "vigorously fight" the charges.
Trump received support from a number of potential challengers for the Republican nomination including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg defended his office’s decision to indict Trump in a letter to Republican lawmakers Friday, rejecting GOP accusations of political persecution as “baseless and inflammatory.”
“That conclusion is misleading and meritless,” wrote Leslie Dubeck, Bragg’s general counsel, in a six-page letter to three House Republican committee chairs who have sought internal details of the criminal probe, Politico reports.
Trump has acknowledged that he reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels payment in the first year of his presidency. Trump Organization records mislabeled the money as legal expenses for work he never performed, federal prosecutors alleged in the 2018 prosecution of Cohen.
The indictment could make any number of charges, including those related to the payment to Daniels or a separate $150,000 payment to a former Playboy model who alleged that she had an affair with the former president.
Among the most likely charges is falsifying business records. The charge by itself is a misdemeanor but can be converted into a felony if prosecutors prove records were falsified to commit or conceal another crime, such as a violation of campaign-finance rules.
Experts said any successful prosecution would likely require evidence establishing that Trump tried to hide the repayment to Cohen with false book entries. Prosecutors would have to prove that Trump made or caused the false entries with an “intent to defraud.” The former president denies any sexual encounter with Daniels, has accused her of extortion and said he relied on Cohen’s advice as his lawyer at the time. He has called the investigation by Bragg, a Democrat, politically motivated.
Key parts of the story rely on the word of Cohen, who pleaded guilty in U.S. district court in 2018 to campaign-finance and other charges brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, as well as to lying to Congress on a separate matter. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Despite Cohen’s vulnerabilities as a potential witness, former New York prosecutors said the Manhattan district attorney’s office would have circumstantial evidence and common sense on its side if it attempted to tie Trump to the reimbursement plan.
“You can think this witness is a liar, but you can also believe that his version of the story is the only one that makes much sense,” said Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School and former Manhattan prosecutor.