Trump indictment explained: Can he still run for President in 2024? Will he surrender to authorities?
The historic indictment of Donald Trump is a seismic moment for the 2024 US presidential campaign, but it is impossible to predict whether the political earthquake will cause lasting damage or settle in his favour.
On Thursday, a New York grand jury voted to indict the twice-impeached Republican leader, who is running again for president, over a $130,000 hush money scheme to silence a porn star claiming a tryst with him in 2006.
Here is everything you need to know about the indictment and its impact:
When is Trump expected to be arraigned?
Former US President Donald Trump is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday, his lawyer Susan Necheles told AFP.
At an arraignment, a defendant is presented with the charges facing them and generally enters a plea. A judge then decides whether they should be released on bail or taken into custody.
“We do expect the arraignment to occur on Tuesday,” Necheles said in an email, without elaborating.
Can the Republican leader still run for President?
Trump can pursue his 2024 White House campaign despite facing criminal charges.
Nothing in the Constitution prevents someone from running for president while facing charges, and even a conviction would not bar them from the nation’s highest office.
The 14th Amendment does prohibit anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding elected office.
Will the indictment impact Trump’s chances in 2024?
Washington-watchers were laser-focused on the effect on Trump’s third bid for the White House — as Republicans united in denouncing his indictment as a politically motivated attempt to derail his campaign.
Detractors worry that if Trump were cleared — the Democrat John Edwards defeated a similar prosecution in 2012 — it could make it easier to cast any future indictment as a “witch hunt.”
And the charges will also likely juice turnout among Trump’s base, say analysts, catapulting him to victory in the nomination race, known as the presidential primary.
“Trump getting indicted should absolutely ruin his presidential aspirations. It should. But based on the undying support from his base, I do not believe it will,” Amani Wells-Onyioha, a Democratic election strategist, told AFP. “In fact, I think it will give him a surge in the polls and cause his base to rally around him even more.”
That said, the tide of Republican opinion is showing some signs of turning, even in the House, faced with Trump’s mushrooming scandals.
Chip Roy, a right-wing lawmaker who has endorsed DeSantis for president, called into the conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s radio show last week to discuss what was then a possible Trump indictment.
“Look, at the end of the day, you cannot walk away from the fact that the former president clearly paid a porn star off to hush up right before an election,” the Republican said. “Correct,” the host replied.
What’s next in the case?
While the indictment remains under seal, the charges against Trump are believed to relate to hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The grand jury, which has been meeting since January, indicted Trump after hearing testimony from a number of witnesses. Trump was invited to testify in person but declined.
Bragg said his office had been in touch with Trump’s attorneys to “coordinate his surrender” for arraignment in New York at a future date.
CBS News, citing Trump’s defence team, said the plan is for the former president to surrender early next week, adding that the Secret Service would be in charge of the arrangements.
Prior to an arraignment, a defendant has their fingerprints and a mugshot taken.
Will the former president surrender to authorities?
Trump, who insists he is “completely innocent,” could refuse to surrender to the New York authorities, forcing them to seek his extradition from his Florida residence.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential Trump rival for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said that his state would “not assist in an extradition request.”
Legal experts said any attempt to fight extradition would at best result in a delay and Trump would eventually have to appear in New York to face the charges.
Once Trump is arraigned and enters a plea, there will be a series of preliminary court hearings to set a date for a trial and decide on witnesses and evidence.
A defendant can avoid going to trial by entering into a plea agreement with prosecutors, in exchange for a lighter sentence, for example. Given Trump’s proclamations of innocence that is unlikely.
Who is key prosecution witness Michael Cohen?
Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, earlier pleaded guilty to charges arising from the hush money payments, including making false statements. He became a key witness in the case.
Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, Cohen paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her silent about what she says was a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier after they met at a celebrity golf tournament.
Cohen was then reimbursed by Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, which also rewarded the lawyer with bonuses and extra payments logged internally as legal expenses. Over several months, Cohen said, the company paid him $420,000.
Earlier in 2016, Cohen also arranged for the publisher of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer to pay Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to squelch her story of a Trump affair in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill.”
The payments to the women were intended to buy secrecy, but they backfired almost immediately as details of the arrangements leaked to news media.
Federal prosecutors in New York ultimately charged Cohen in 2018 with violating federal campaign finance laws, arguing that the payments amounted to impermissible help to Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty to those charges and unrelated tax evasion counts and served time in federal prison.
Trump — obliquely referred to in charging documents as “Individual 1” — was implicated in court filings as having knowledge of the arrangements, but US prosecutors at the time balked at bringing charges against him. The Justice Department has a longtime policy against prosecuting a sitting president in federal court.
Cohen became a key witness, meeting with prosecutors nearly two-dozen times, turning over emails, recordings and other evidence and testifying before the grand jury.
What have other presidential candidates said?
In an interview with Fox News, former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley said, “From everything I’ve seen from this New York district attorney, this would be something he’d be doing for political points. And I think what we know is when you get into political prosecutions like this, it’s more about revenge than it is about justice”.
Vivek Ramaswamy termed Trump’s indictment “politically motivated” which would “undermine public trust in our electoral system and our justice system”.
“It is un-American for the ruling party to use police power to arrest its political rivals. Principles go beyond partisanship. The American people should decide who governs, not politically ambitious prosecutors,” he said.
“Our entire country is skating on thin ice right now and we cannot afford to politicise the justice system or else we will reach our breaking point,” Ramaswamy said.
How have politicians reacted?
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, seen as Trump’s main potential rival for the Republican nomination, denounced the indictment as “un-American” and a “weaponisation of the legal system.”
DeSantis has also been careful in recent weeks to repeat the case’s most salacious details, joking that he didn’t “know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star.”
In the Senate, Trump loyalist Ted Cruz, a former presidential rival, said on his podcast the prosecution “could be the single biggest in-kind gift to the Donald Trump campaign of this entire cycle.”
On the left, figures like former White House strategist David Axelrod have characterised the hush money scandal as the least significant of four criminal probes of Trump.