Donald Trump indicted in hush-money investigation

Indictment will make Trump the first former or sitting US president to face criminal charges

A New York grand jury has voted to indict former US president Donald Trump over hush-money payments made to an adult film star before the 2016 election. AFP
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A New York grand jury has voted to indict Donald Trump, the Manhattan District Attorney confirmed on Thursday, in the first criminal charge against any sitting or former American president.

The investigative panel heard evidence about how adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Mr Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Cohen testified that the payment was made to Ms Daniels to stop her from publicly speaking about a sexual encounter she said she had with Mr Trump in 2006. He has denied the claims.

“This evening we contacted Mr Trump’s attorney to co-ordinate his surrender to the Manhattan DA's Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal," a representative of District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.

"Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”

The New York Times first reported the news of the indictment on Thursday evening.

It is not yet known what charge Mr Trump is facing, while legal experts suspect that the case could result in a misdemeanour charge of falsifying business records, or a felony if falsifying records was intended to cover up a second crime, such as campaign finance offences.

The 2024 presidential candidate said in a statement that he is "completely innocent", and called the indictment "an act of blatant election interference".

The indictment in the Manhattan court is the first of several continuing inquiries into Mr Trump — from the 2020 election to the handling of classified documents — to result in a criminal charge.

He is facing federal and state investigations led by a special counsel appointed by US Attorney General Merrick Garland and a prosecutor in Georgia.

“He did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in court," Mr Trump's lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, told AP.

If arrested, it is expected that Mr Trump will undergo the formal process of being fingerprinted and having a mugshot taken, Politico and Bloomberg News have reported.

Mr Tacopina said earlier in March that Mr Trump would surrender to authorities and avoid a standoff. A warrant will be issued for his arrest should he try to avoid arrest.

New York City law enforcement and the Secret Service prepared security measures after Mr Trump posted on social media, calling on his supporters to "protest" and "take our nation back" in response to an indictment.

It is not clear when a court appearance for an arraignment would occur.

Updated: March 31, 2023, 9:31 AM