A Manhattan grand jury has voted to indict Donald Trump on charges related to the former president’s hush-money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election, Rolling Stone has confirmed. Two sources familiar with the matter say they expect Trump to surrender to authorities on Tuesday.
The historic indictment was highly anticipated, as details of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s probe into the former president became public in recent weeks. The New York Times was the first to report the news.
More from Rolling Stone
Sex Workers See Stormy Daniels as a Hero After Trump Indictment
Manhattan DA's Office Slams Republicans Trying to Meddle in Trump Case
Earlier this month, Bragg’s office gave Trump the option to testify before the grand jury, signaling an indictment was forthcoming. Trump declined the invitation. Fox News reported that Manhattan prosecutors had requested a meeting with law enforcement to discuss logistics surrounding the possible indictment, and Trump posted to Truth Social the following morning that he would be getting arrested in the coming days. It took a little longer than Trump anticipated, giving the former president time to bash Bragg and suggest violent action might be the only way to defend him against charges.
Trump responded in a lengthy statement posted to Truth Social. “This is a Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” he began. “From the time I came down the golden escalator in Trump Tower, and even before I was sworn in as your President of the United States, the Radical Left Democrats — the enemy of the hard-working men and women of this Country — have been engaged in a Witch-Hunt to destroy the Make America Great Again movement.”
Trump’s lawyers were a little more brief in their response. “President Trump has been indicted,” Susan Necheles and Joe Tacopina wrote in a statement. “He did not commit any crime. We will vigorously defend this political prosecution in Court.”
Bragg’s office noted in a statement that it has “contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for an arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal.”
Two sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone that Trump’s legal team has not seen the sealed indictment and does not know what the charges are, although multiple outlets have reported that the former president is facing over 30 counts related to document fraud.
Trump’s campaign has been fundraising off of the indictment.
Trump campaign sends out fundraising email: pic.twitter.com/u3wxYdvnqf
— Meridith McGraw (@meridithmcgraw) March 30, 2023
The grand jury’s vote is a gut-check for the American legal system, testing the bedrock principle that “no one is above the law.” It is also unprecedented. Trump is the first former president to face criminal prosecution in the history of the United States. (Though culpability was not in doubt, Richard Nixon was pardoned for his Watergate crimes before he could face the justice system.)
The indictment stems from a 2016 payment to Daniels, with whom Trump allegedly had an affair in 2006 and 2007. The pair had met at a celebrity golf tournament near Lake Tahoe during the height of Trump’s celebrity as the star of the reality show The Apprentice.
In October of 2016, shortly before the general election, Trump’s then-attorney and fixer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to sign a non-disclosure-agreement, to stop her from dishing details of the alleged tryst to the press. The motive was to prevent a new sexual scandal from rocking the late stages of a campaign that was still cleaning up from the fallout of the Access Hollywood tape. Despite the explicit aim of helping Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, the payment was not disclosed as a campaign contribution.
Cohen made the hush money payment from his own finances — securing a home equity line of credit to come up with the cash — and funneled the payoff through a shell corporation. Trump then allegedly directed that Cohen be reimbursed for the payment, and also rewarded the fixer handsomely for the hassle. But Trump didn’t cut Cohen a check. The funds, totaling more than $400,000, were paid out from the coffers of his business, the Trump Organization, which put Cohen on a $35,000 monthly retainer throughout 2017, ostensibly for legal services, according to Cohen’s guilty plea for violating campaign finance laws.
Trump has denied the affair and insisted that he never instructed Cohen to do anything illegal. He has pointed to Cohen as his attorney and suggested he was acting on the advice of counsel. Cohen has testified that the initial payment and the covert reimbursement scheme were both executed at Trump’s direction. Rolling Stone reported last month that Trump’s advisers have told him that the best defense is to insist the payment was made primarily to keep the alleged affair from his wife Melania, not the America public ahead of the election.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the Manhattan grand jury also investigated a separate payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, with whom Trump also allegedly had an affair. AMI, the parent company of The National Inquirer paid McDougal for the rights to her life story months before the 2016 election, and later admitted it had made the payment “in concert with a candidate’s presidential campaign” to “suppress [McDougal’s] story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.” David Pecker, the former publisher of the Enquirer, reportedly testified before the grand jury on Monday, but it’s unclear what role the McDougal payment played in the indictment.
Some observers have argued that the expected criminal case against Trump lack gravitas and that the salacious nature of the Stormy Daniels scandal makes it a poor test-case for the serious and unprecedented business of seeking a criminal conviction of a former president. Trump and his allies have decried the prosecution as corrupt and partisan, pointing to Bragg having won office thanks in part to financial support provided by the liberal financier George Soros. Nevertheless, Rolling Stone reported that week that Trump’s attorneys have been preparing him to lose the case.
The indictment in New York could open the floodgates for more charges, emboldening other criminal prosecutors to follow suit with charges relating to more serious crimes. Trump remains under investigation in Georgia for allegations of 2020 election interference, and the federal Justice Department has appointed a special prosecutor to probe his mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, as well as his campaign to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election, which resulted in a criminal referral by the House committee that investigated Jan. 6.
The indictment does not bar Trump from running for president — nor would a potential conviction.
Best of Rolling Stone
The Useful Idiots New Guide to the Most Stoned Moments of the 2020 Presidential Campaign