Donald Trump indicted over hush-money payment allegations in Stormy Daniels investigation

Donald Trump has become the first former president to face a criminal charge, ITV News Washington Correspondent Dan Rivers has the latest.

Donald Trump has claimed he is being persecuted in a "witch hunt", following his indiction over hush-money payments made on his behalf during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The charges marks an extraordinary turn in American history, making Trump the first former president to face a criminal charge.

Stormy Daniels, a porn star who was paid for her silence over an alleged extramarital affair with Trump, cancelled her first interview since news of the indictment broke, over "security concerns" on Friday.

Prosecutors have announced the hearing for Trump's indictment will take place on Tuesday April 4 in New York City.

They did not say whether they intended to seek prison time in the event of a conviction, a development that still wouldn’t prevent Trump from seeking and assuming the presidency.

It's one of several investigations that have intensified as Trump mounts his third presidential run.

The exact nature of the charges was still unclear on Friday because the indictment remains under seal, but they stem from payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter.

He has denied any allegations of wrongdoing and accused prosecutors of engaging in a politically-motivated "witch hunt" to damage his campaign.

Regardless, a Manhattan grand jury, which has been hearing evidence in secret for weeks, voted to indict him, on Thursday.

Trump issued a statement following the news, claiming he was a victim of "political persecution at the highest level in history" and a 'witch hunt,' orchestrated by his political rivals.

He has been calling on his supporters to protest what he called the "corrupt and highly political Manhattan district attorney’s office".

Trump is "ready to fight", his attorney, Joe Tacopina, said on Fox News.

His son, Eric Trump, tweeted following news of the indictment: "This is third world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year."

As president, Trump faced legal scrutiny for two years while the Justice Department investigated his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia.

Although special counsel Robert Mueller never found direct evidence of collusion, his final report did lay out evidence for obstruction.

He noted that, because of a department opinion that bars indicting a sitting president, he could not recommend Trump be criminally charged, even in secret.

Since Trump left office, the investigations have circled ever closer.

In the weeks leading up to the indictment, Trump railed about the investigation on social media and urged supporters to protest on his behalf, prompting tighter security around the Manhattan criminal courthouse.

Trump faces other potential legal perils as he seeks to reassert control of the Republican Party and stave off former allies who are seeking or are likely to oppose him for the 2024 presidential nomination.

A spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office confirmed the indictment and said prosecutors had reached out to Trump’s defence team to coordinate a surrender.

Mr Tacopina said Trump is "likely" to turn himself in on Tuesday.

"We’re working out those logistics right now," he said on NBC's Today show, on Friday morning. "He's not gonna hole up in Mar-a-Lago."

For any New York defendant, answering criminal charges means being fingerprinted and photographed, fielding basic questions such as name and birthdate, and getting arraigned.

Trump isn't expected to be put in handcuffs. It is expected he will have Secret Service protection and will almost certainly be released that same day.

A lot depends on the severity of the case and whether defendants arrange to turn themselves in.

Trump's Republican rival Ron De Santis criticised the announcement as the "weaponisation of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head".

De Santis, Governor for Florida, said that his state "will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda".

He added: "It is un-American. The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent."

On Friday, Ms Daniels tweeted her thanks to "everyone for your support and love", adding: "I have so many messages coming in that I can't respond... also don't want to spill my champagne."

She had been due to speak publicly for the first time since Trump's indictment was announced, on Friday night, in an interview with TalkTV's Piers Morgan.

However, Mr Morgan announced the interview had been "suddenly" cancelled due to "security concerns".

"Unfortunately, Stormy Daniels has had to suddenly postpone our interview tonight due to some security issues that have arisen. Hope she’s OK," the broadcaster wrote in a tweet.

The indictment relates to 'hush money' paid to Stormy Daniels (pictured), over an alleged affair she had with Donald Trump. Credit: AP

Why has Donald Trump been indicted?

Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid porn star Ms Daniels $130,000 (£105,000) to keep her silent about what she claims was a sexual encounter with Trump, a decade earlier after they met at a celebrity golf tournament.

Mr Cohen was eventually reimbursed by Trump’s company, the Trump Organisation, which also rewarded the lawyer with bonuses and extra payments logged internally as legal expenses.

Over several months, Mr Cohen said, the company paid him $420,000 (£33,900).

Earlier in 2016, Mr Cohen had also arranged for the publisher of the tabloid the National Enquirer to pay Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 (£121,000) to spike her story of a Trump affair, in a controversial 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 the news media.

Federal prosecutors in New York ultimately charged Mr Cohen in 2018 with violating federal campaign finance laws, arguing that the payments amounted to impermissible help to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to those charges and unrelated tax evasion counts and served time in federal prison.

Trump 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 long-time policy that it is likely unconstitutional to prosecute a sitting president in federal court.

Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen. Credit: AP

The charges against Trump are being brought by Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. His predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr, had taken up the investigation back in 2019.

While that probe initially focused on the hush money payments, Mr Vance’s prosecutors moved on to other matters, including an examination of Trump’s business dealings and tax strategies.

Mr Vance ultimately charged the Trump Organisation and its chief financial officer with tax fraud related to fringe benefits paid to some of the company’s top executives.

After the Trump Organisation was convicted on the tax fraud charges in December, Mr Bragg renewed focus on the hush money case, and convened a new grand jury.

Mr 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.

Trump has long decried the Manhattan investigation as "the greatest witch hunt in history".

He has also lashed out at Mr Bragg, calling the prosecutor, who is black, racist against white people.

Supporters near Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Credit: AP

What does this mean for his presidential campaign?

An indictment - or even a conviction - would not bar Trump from running for president or serving as the Republican nominee.

Polls show Trump remains the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and his standing has not faltered, even amid widespread reporting on the expected charges.

Trump's campaign and his allies have long hoped an indictment would serve as a rallying cry for his supporters, angering his "Make America Great Again" base, drawing small dollar donations, and forcing Trump's potential rivals into the awkward position of having to defend him - or risk their wrath.

At Trump's first rally of the 2024 campaign, held in Texas over the weekend, supporters expressed widespread disgust with the investigation and insisted the case wouldn't affect his chances.

Others in the crowd said their support for Trump had been waning since he left the White House, but the looming indictment made them more likely to support him in 2024 because they felt his anger had been justified.

However for now, it remains unclear how the indictment will resonate with voters.

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