Trump indicted in Stormy Daniels hush money probe

Charges stem from payment to porn star before 2016 election

Clockwise from right: Donald Trump, Alvin Bragg, Stormy Daniels, and Michael Cohen
Clockwise from right: Donald Trump, Alvin Bragg, Stormy Daniels, and Michael Cohen (Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal) 

Donald Trump became the first former U.S. president charged with a crime when a Manhattan grand jury indicted him for his alleged role in a hush-money payment to a porn star weeks before the 2016 presidential election.

The news was reported Thursday afternoon by various outlets, including the New York Times, which cited five sources, and the Associated Press, which cited a lawyer for Trump.

The real estate developer was facing charges of falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair in 2006. 

Falsifying business records is typically a misdemeanor in New York, but if Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office can prove that Trump falsified the records in an attempt to conceal a second crime — in this case, a violation of federal election law — it can be prosecuted as a felony.

The payments were allegedly made in October 2016 by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney. Trump has denied the affair and stated that he did not direct Cohen to make the payment, but acknowledged reimbursing him for it.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to eight charges related to the payment, including campaign-finance violations, and received a three-year prison sentence which he spent mostly in home confinement. Cohen has maintained that his former boss instructed him to make the payment.

Bragg’s office opened its criminal investigation into Trump’s alleged role in the payment shortly after Cohen’s guilty plea in 2018, the New York Times previously reported.

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Federal prosecutors investigating Cohen at the time said in court papers that the Trump Organization “falsely accounted” for Cohen’s monthly reimbursements as legal expenses, citing a retainer agreement. But no such agreement existed, the prosecutors alleged, and the payments were not connected to any legal services Cohen performed for Trump.

This is the first time that prosecutors in New York have sought to combine a charge of falsifying business records with a violation of state election law involving a presidential campaign, according to legal experts who spoke to the Times. That legal hurdle could result in a judge throwing out the case or reducing the felony charge to a misdemeanor.

If convicted, Trump would face a maximum prison sentence of four years.

The former president’s business has been targeted by Bragg as well. The Trump Organization was fined $1.6 million in January over its conviction on tax fraud and related charges in December. A jury found two affiliates of the company guilty of 17 criminal counts, including tax fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records.

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