Donald Trump could be charged any day - what happens next?
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[March 20, 2023]
By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donald Trump could be charged in New York as soon
as this week for allegedly covering up hush money payments to a porn
star during his 2016 presidential campaign, nearly seven years after the
money changed hands.
But any trial of the former U.S. president would still be more than a
year away, legal experts said, and could coincide with the final months
of the 2024 presidential campaign as Trump seeks a return to the White
In a social media post on Saturday, Trump said he expected to be
arrested on Tuesday and called on his followers to protest, though a
spokesperson later said Trump has not been notified of any pending
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has presented evidence to a New
York grand jury about a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in
the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign in exchange for her
silence about an alleged affair, according to sources. Trump has denied
the affair, and his lawyer has accused Daniels, whose real name is
Stephanie Clifford, of extortion.
Were he charged, Trump would become the first former U.S. president to
face criminal prosecution. Polls show him leading other potential rivals
for the Republican nomination, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis,
who is widely expected to mount a White House bid.
The average criminal case in New York takes more than a year to move
from indictment to trial, said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, former Manhattan
chief assistant district attorney, and Trump's case is far from typical.
That raises the possibility of Trump having to stand trial in the middle
of the 2024 presidential campaign, or even after Election Day, though
putting a president-elect or president on trial for state charges would
enter uncharted legal waters. If elected, he would not hold the power to
pardon himself of state charges.
"This is so unprecedented that it's hard for me to say," Agnifilo said
when asked whether a judge would put Trump on trial close to the
election. "I think it's tricky."
The New York case is one of several focused on Trump, including a
Georgia election interference probe and a pair of federal investigations
into his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by his
supporters trying to overturn his defeat and into his retention of
classified documents after leaving the White House.
CHALLENGING THE CASE
In his early career in real estate, as a television celebrity and then
in politics, the famously litigious Trump has employed aggressive
counter-attacks and delay tactics when confronted with legal challenges.
Trump has accused Bragg, an elected Democrat, of targeting him for
political gain and could try to seek dismissal of the charges on those
Trump would likely pursue other avenues as well, some of which could
present thorny legal issues that take time to resolve.
[to top of second column]
Michael Cohen, former attorney for
former U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives to the New York
Courthouse in New York City, U.S., March 15, 2023. REUTERS/Eduardo
While serving as president, Trump reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels
payments, and federal prosecutors who charged Cohen said in court
papers that the payments were falsely recorded as for legal
services. The New York Times, citing sources, has reported the most
likely charges against Trump would be for falsifying business
records, typically a misdemeanor.
To elevate that charge to a felony, prosecutors must prove that
Trump falsified records to cover up a second crime. One possibility,
according to the Times, is that prosecutors could assert the payment
itself violated state campaign finance law, since it was effectively
an illegal secret donation to boost his campaign.
Using state election law to elevate a false business record charge
is an untested legal theory, experts said, and Trump's lawyers would
be sure to challenge it.
Trump could also challenge whether the statute of limitations - five
years in this instance - should have run out. Under New York law,
the statute of limitations can be extended if the defendant has been
out of state, but Trump may argue that serving as U.S. president
should not apply.
"There's a whole host of possibilities," said David Shapiro, a
former FBI agent and prosecutor and a lecturer at the John Jay
College of Criminal Justice in New York. "This is a dream case for
FINGERPRINTS AND MUGSHOT
In the near term, any indictment would require Trump to travel to
the district attorney's office in downtown New York to surrender. In
white-collar cases, the defendant's lawyers and prosecutors
typically agree on a date and time, rather than arresting the person
Trump would have his fingerprints and mugshot taken and would appear
for arraignment in court. He would likely be released on his own
recognizance and allowed to head home, experts said.
Trump's lawyer, Joe Tacopina, told CNBC on Friday that Trump would
surrender if charged. If Trump refused to come in voluntarily,
prosecutors could seek to have him extradited from Florida, where he
In an ironic twist, DeSantis would typically have to give formal
approval for an extradition demand in his capacity as governor,
though Florida legal experts said his role would be strictly
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen and Tom
Hals; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)
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