Why Is Donald Trump Facing Criminal Charges?

He is the first former US president ever to be indicted.
Donald Trump has just become the first ex-US president to be indicted
Donald Trump has just become the first ex-US president to be indicted
Carlos Barria via Reuters

Donald Trump has officially been indicted over hush money he allegedly gave to a porn star back in 2016.

Trump, who is still planning to run again for the 2024 presidential election, made international headlines on Thursday after becoming the first former US president to face criminal charges in the 235 years of American history.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is indictment?

This is a formal written accusation sent to someone explaining that they’re believed to have committed a crime, and includes details of the charges against them.

It’s always the result of a grand jury proceeding, which is a private meeting between a group of impartial citizens who hear prosecutor’s evidence before a trial.

Witnesses can be called to testify before them, and evidence is presented along with the outlined case.

The group then vote in secret to decide if there is “probable cause” to believe the accused has committed a crime and should face trial. At least 12 jurors have to agree to issue an indictment.

Unlike trial juries, grand juries are made up of 16 to 23 people. Their proceedings are not open to the public, and neither defendants nor their attorneys can appear before the grand jury.

An indictment does not always include felony charges (although Trump’s indictment does).

Now, he’ll have to go to the New York City court to get his mugshot, DNA and fingerprint taken.

Why has Trump been indicted?

Trump has been indicted over hush money he gave to Stormy Daniels
Trump has been indicted over hush money he gave to Stormy Daniels
Mike Blake via Reuters

New York prosecutors have been looking into the supposed hush money the ex-president is said to have handed to porn star Stormy Daniels since earlier this year.

Daniels claims these alleged payments, made by Trump’s then lawyer Michael Cohen, were meant to stop her from talking about her affair with Trump prior to the 2016 presidential election.

The hush money in itself is not a crime, but Trump recorded his reimbursement to Cohen as legal fees. If prosecutors prove this was a falsification of records, it could count as a misdemeanour in New York.

It could also mean Trump violated campaign finance laws because it happened just before the 2016 election, and so it could indicate that he didn’t want his voters to know about her – that would be a class E felony.

US media has reported that there are more than 30 counts related to business fraud, although the details of the charges have not been made public yet.

The ex-president wrote on social media last week that he was expecting to be arrested last Tuesday.

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, claims the affair did not happen and has alleged that the indictment is “political persecution” from the Democrats to impact the election.

He also alleged that the Democrats have “done the unthinkable” and indicted a “completely innocent person”.

In a statement, his lawyer said: “He did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in court.”

Who is Stormy Daniels?

Former porn star and stripper, Daniels claimed she had an affair with Trump around a decade before he won the 2016 presidential election.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she first met him at a charity gold tournament in July 2006, and that they had sex in a resort between California and Nevada.

She tweeted to thank her supporters shortly after it was revealed that Trump was indicted.

Her lawyer Clark Brewster also tweeted: “The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected.”

He added. “Now let truth and justice prevail. No one is above the law.”

Who is Michael Cohen?

Trump’s former lawyer is a key witness in the case, having given Daniels the hush money before being reimbursed by his then-boss.

Cohen has already served three years in jails for paying off two women who claimed to have sex with Trump as a means to influence the 2016 election and has been convicted of tax evasion.

When the ex-president indictment was announced, he said that it was an “important day for justice” and that Trump “is going to understand that no one is above the law”.

Can Trump still run for president in 2024?

Yes, he can still campaign for presidency if he wants, because US law does not prohibit it – even in the highly unlikely scenario that he were to go to prison.

But, it would be unprecedented if he were still to run and it could affect his bid to get voters interested in him again.

The Quinnipiac University poll, released on Wednesday, found 57% of respondents thought criminal charges should stop him from running – although only 23% of Republicans fell into this camp.

What’s the reaction been?

As you can imagine, the responses have ranged quite a lot. Republicans think he is being held to a higher standard, while Democrats think this is a good way to show no one is above the law.


Trump’s son Eric Trump said the charges were “third world prosecutorial misconduct”, adding: “It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year.”

House Majority leader Steve Scalise claimed it was a “sham New York indictment”, and also accused the Democrats of weaponising government to attack the political opponents.

The Republican Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, tweeted that there would be consequences for the New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg for using the power of Congress.

Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican Governor who is expected to be Trump’s main opponent as the Republican contender in the 2024 presidential race, also sided with the ex-president.

He said the state “will not assist in an extradition request” from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, even though Trump lives in Florida and is expected to go to NYC to enter his plea.

Mike Pence, former vice president to Trump, also said it was an “outrage” – but noted carefully that there is no need for supporters to protests.


Democrats have kept their tone reserved rather than celebratory, with many saying he deserves the correct process.

Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer wrote: “I encourage both Mr Trump’s critics and supporters to let the process proceed peacefully and according to the law.”

Former house speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “No-one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence.

“Hopefully, the former president will peacefully respect the system, which grants him that right,” she said.

Representative Adam Schiff, who led the first impeachment trial against Trump, said: “A nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountable, even when they hold high office. Especially when they do. To do otherwise is not democracy.”

Democrat US president Joe Biden is yet to publicly address the saga.

What happens next?

Trump will face charges in court next Tuesday, meaning he will have to travel from Florida to New York ( a journey which will have plenty security challenges) where he will also enter a guilty or not guilty plea. He’s likely to then be released on bail.

The timeframe for a criminal trial is still unclear at the moment.

But, the ultimate outcome ultimately depends on whether prosecutors can link Trump to the payments and prove it was a crime.

If he is convicted of a misdemeanour, he will likely just be fined, but if he is convicted on the felony, he could face a maximum four years’ prison sentence.

Trump is also under scrutiny in two other major investigations, that into the January 6 Capitol riots back in 2021, and the efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, there are widespread fears that protests from Trump’s fervent supporters could start – and police departments in New York are already on high alert to deal with “unusual disorder”, according to NBC’s report.


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