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March 31, 2023 Trump indictment news

What we covered here

  • Former President Donald Trump faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud in a Thursday indictment from a Manhattan grand jury, according to sources.
  • It's the first time in US history that a current or former president has been criminally charged. The indictment was filed under seal and charges are not yet public.
  • Trump is expected to appear in court Tuesday afternoon for his arraignment, sources tell CNN. Trump's attorney said the former president will "absolutely" voluntarily surrender to New York law enforcement and plans to file "substantial" legal challenges.
  • The Manhattan district attorney's office has been investigating the former president in connection with his alleged role in a hush money payment scheme and cover-up involving adult film star Stormy Daniels that dates to the 2016 presidential election.
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11:55 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

Photos: The days surrounding the indictment of Donald Trump

History was made Thursday when former President Donald Trump was indicted by a New York grand jury.

It's the first time that a current or former US president has been criminally charged.

The Manhattan district attorney's office has been investigating Trump's alleged role in a hush money payment scheme and cover-up involving adult film star Stormy Daniels that dates to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump is expected to appear in court Tuesday for his arraignment, sources told CNN, and his attorney said he plans to file "substantial" legal challenges. The former president has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the matter and accused Democrats of targeting him politically.
Trump was bracing for an indictment as early as March 18, when he said in a social media post that he expected to be arrested within days. In his post, he appealed to his supporters for action, writing, "Protest, take our nation back."
See photos of the days leading up to Trump's indictment:
Michael Cohen leaves a Manhattan courthouse after testifying before the grand jury on March 13. "My goal is to tell the truth," the former Trump attorney told reporters before testifying. "My goal is to allow Alvin Bragg and his team to do what they need to do. I'm just here to answer the questions." (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Media and protesters are seen outside Bragg's office in New York on March 20. A couple of days earlier, Trump said in a social media post that he expected to be arrested within days. (Mark Peterson/Redux)

Former President Donald Trump leaves after speaking at his rally in Waco on March 25. Trump, who is running for president again, railed against what he called "prosecutorial misconduct" and denied any wrongdoing amid investigations in New York, Georgia and Washington, DC.  (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg leaves the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse after the grand jury indicted Trump on March 30. (Dave Sanders/The New York Times/Redux)

Mary Kelley waves a Trump flag near the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate after he was indicted on March 30.  (Josh Ritchie/The New York Times/Redux)

News of Trump's indictment was on the front page of The New York Times on March 31. (David Dee Delgado/Reuters)

11:33 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

Trump will not accept plea deal and plans to file "substantial legal challenges" to indictment, lawyer says

Former President Donald Trump exits the Oval Office and walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump will not accept a plea deal in the indictment brought by a Manhattan grand jury but does plan to file “substantial legal challenges” to the indictment, his attorney Joe Tacopina said.

“President Trump will not take a plea deal in this case. It's not gonna happen,” Tacopina said in an interview with NBC News on Friday.

“I don't know if it's gonna make it to trial because we have substantial legal challenges that we have to ... front before we get to that point,” Tacopina said when asked if he expects to take the case to trial.

Trump will “absolutely” voluntarily surrender to Manhattan law enforcement, the defense attorney said, adding the former president is “not going to hole up in Mar-a-Lago.”

Logistics are currently being worked, he said.

Meanwhile, Trump attorney Jim Trusty said Friday he expects that the former president's legal team will file motions to dismiss his indictment before a trial could potentially get underway. 

“I would think in very short order, you'll see a motion to dismiss — or several motions to dismiss — talking about this kind of impossible theory of stacking a federal crime into a state misdemeanor, statute of limitations issues and very importantly, the intent to defraud. That's an element of these false record keeping charges. That's just not present here," Trusty told CNN This Morning. 

The lawyer said he did not know "about the exact timing" as there isn't a case number yet but he noted that it will "be soon."

"I think this will be something you can expect in days or weeks, not weeks or months," he added.

Tacopina told Good Morning America that the former president "will not be put in handcuffs."  

Responding to CNN reporting that Trump has been charged on more than 30 counts related to business fraud, Tacopina said he does not know the nature of the charges against Trump or how many there are, but added, “If it's correct, it means they've taken each transaction, each check, each payment, each entry and made a separate charge.”

Tacopina said he does not know when the charges will be unsealed but suggested it “might likely be Tuesday.”

11:08 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

Key things to know about the Manhattan DA leading the probe into Trump’s role in the hush money scheme

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during an interview in New York on December 15, 2022. (Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Alvin Bragg, a former New York state and federal prosecutor, drew national attention when he made history as the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office first Black district attorney. Now, he is back in the spotlight after a grand jury voted to indict Donald Trump after a yearslong investigation into the former president’s alleged role in a hush money scheme.
Bragg has remained tight-lipped on the details of the Trump probe, which he inherited from his predecessor, Cy Vance, who began the investigation when Trump was still in the White House.

Following news of his indictment, Trump claimed in a statement that it was “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”

Bragg has aggressively pursued Trump and other progressive priorities so far in his tenure, including not prosecuting some low-level crimes and finding alternatives to incarceration.

Before Bragg’s swearing-in last year, he had already worked on cases related to Trump and other notable names in his role as a New York state chief deputy attorney general.

He said he had helped sue the Trump administration more than 100 times, as well as led a team that sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which resulted in the former president paying $2 million to a number of charities and the foundation’s dissolution.

Bragg also led the suit against disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein and his company, which alleged a hostile work environment.

The Harvard-educated attorney previously served as an assistant US attorney in the Southern District of New York, worked as a civil rights lawyer and as a professor and co-director of the New York Law School Racial Justice Project, where he represented family members of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after being placed in an unauthorized chokehold by a then-police officer, in a lawsuit against the City of New York seeking information.
Read more about the Manhattan DA here.
10:36 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

A list of the other notable legal clouds that hang over Donald Trump in 2023

The New York hush money payment investigation is not the only probe former President Donald Trump is facing.
Here’s an updated list of additional notable investigations, lawsuits and controversies:
Mar-a-Lago documents: Did Trump mishandle classified material?
Special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing the Justice Department’s criminal investigations into the retention of national defense information at Trump’s resort and into parts of the January 6, 2021, insurrection.
The Justice Department investigation continues into whether documents from the Trump White House were illegally mishandled when they were taken to Mar-a-Lago in Florida after he left office. A federal grand jury has interviewed potential witnesses regarding how Trump handled the documents.

The National Archives, charged with collecting and sorting presidential material, has previously said that at least 15 boxes of White House records were recovered from Mar-a-Lago, including some classified records.

Any unauthorized retention or destruction of White House documents could violate a criminal law that prohibits the removal or destruction of official government records, legal experts told CNN.

2020 election and January 6: US Justice Department

Smith’s purview also includes the period after Trump’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden and leading up to the insurrection at the US Capitol.

As part of its investigation, the special counsel’s office has sought testimony from a number of key White House insiders, including former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Aspects of the Justice Department’s probe include the use of so-called fake electors from states that Trump falsely claimed he had won, such as Georgia and Arizona.

Trump has been fighting to keep former advisers from testifying about certain conversations, citing executive and attorney-client privileges to keep information confidential or slow down criminal investigators.

2020 election: Efforts to overturn Georgia results

Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis oversaw a special grand jury investigating what Trump or his allies may have done in their efforts to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia.

Willis, a Democrat, is considering bringing conspiracy and racketeering charges, CNN’s Don Lemon reported Monday.

The probe was launched in 2021 following Trump’s call that January with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pushed the Republican to “find” votes to overturn the election results.

The grand jury issued a report – which remains mostly under seal – that found there was no widespread voter fraud in the state and also suggested perjury charges be considered against some people who testified.

Overall, the grand jury recommended charges against more than a dozen people, the foreperson said in interviews last month.
Read about other investigations here.
10:05 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

Key things to know about what a grand jury is and does

Following the Manhattan grand jury's indictment of former President Donald Trump, it’s worth looking at the mechanics of what’s going on in the legal system and how the process that applies to everyone is being applied to Trump.
We spoke to Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor and author of the new book, “Untouchable: How Powerful People Get Away With It,” for a refresher on how grand juries and indictments work. Part of our conversation, conducted by phone, is below:
Grand jury vs. trial jury
WOLFWhat should we know about the difference between a grand jury and a trial jury?
HONIG: A grand jury decides to indict, meaning to charge a case. A trial jury determines guilt or non-guilt.

A grand jury is bigger, typically 23 members, and the prosecutor only needs the votes of a majority of a grand jury – as opposed to a trial jury, which has to be unanimous.

The standard of proof in a grand jury is lower than a trial jury. In a grand jury, you only have to show probable cause, meaning more likely than not. But of course in a trial setting, you need to show proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The other thing to know is a grand jury is an almost entirely one-sided process.

Usually the only people allowed in the room at all are the grand jurors, the prosecutors, the witnesses and a court reporter.

In some instances, including New York, there’s a limited right of a potential defendant to present some evidence, but no defense lawyers are allowed in the room.

There’s no cross-examination of the prosecution’s evidence. There’s no presentation of defense evidence.

Close to every time a prosecutor seeks an indictment from a grand jury, he or she will get an indictment from the grand jury.

What is an indictment?
WOLFHow would you define “indictment”?
HONIG: It’s a document setting forth formal charges against the defendant.
Three Trump grand juries
WOLF: We have three grand juries that are top of mind – for election meddling in Georgia, at the federal level for declassified documents and then the Manhattan DA. How much variation is there in grand juries between city, county and federal?
HONIG: There are minor variations, but the basics remain the same.
Here’s an example of one of the minor variations in New York State, but not in the federal system, meaning for DOJ. The defendant does have some limited right to be notified and given a chance to testify or present defense evidence, which we saw play out with Trump and then him asking Robert Costello to testify.

That’s not the case federally. You do not have to give a defendant a chance to testify or present evidence. That’s one slight variation. But the basic fundamentals are the same.

9:42 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

Here's why Trump can still run for president — even though he's been indicted

Trump speaks during a 2024 election campaign rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump faces four different criminal investigations by three different levels of government – the Manhattan district attorney; the Fulton County, Georgia, district attorney; and the Department of Justice.
Even though he has been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury he can still run for president in 2024. Trump announced his candidacy in November.

“Nothing stops Trump from running while indicted, or even convicted,” Richard Hasen said, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Constitution requires only three things of candidates:

  • A natural-born citizen.
  • At least 35 years old.
  • A resident of the US for at least 14 years.

As a political matter, it’s maybe more difficult for an indicted candidate, who could become a convicted criminal, to win votes. Trials don’t let candidates put their best foot forward, but it is not forbidden for them to run or be elected.

There are a few asterisks both in the Constitution and the 14th and 22nd Amendments, none of which currently apply to Trump in the cases thought to be closest to formal indictment.

  • Term limits. The 22nd Amendment forbids anyone who has twice been president (meaning twice been elected or served part of someone else’s term and then won his or her own) from running again. That doesn’t apply to Trump since he lost the 2020 election.
  • Impeachment. If a person is impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate of high crimes and misdemeanors, he or she is removed from office and disqualified from serving again. Trump, although twice impeached by the House during his presidency, was also twice acquitted by the Senate.
  • Disqualification. The 14th Amendment includes a “disqualification clause,” written specifically with an eye toward former Confederate soldiers.

The indictment in New York City with regard to the hush-money payment to an adult film star has nothing to do with rebellion or insurrection. Nor do potential federal charges with regard to classified documents.

Potential charges in Fulton County, Georgia, with regard to 2020 election meddling or at the federal level with regard to the January 6, 2021, insurrection could perhaps be construed by some as a form of insurrection. But that is an open question that would have to work its way through the courts. The 2024 election is fast approaching.

8:58 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

Michael Cohen's attorney says chance of successful motion to dismiss case against Trump is "very small"

Lanny Davis, the attorney for Michael Cohen, appears on CNN on Friday, March 31. (CNN)

Lanny Davis, the attorney for Michael Cohen, thinks the chance of a successful motion to dismiss former President Donald Trump's indictment is "very small."

"There's so much factual dispute on the material issues," Davis told CNN's Erin Burnett on Friday night, responding comments by Trump attorney Jim Trusty. "A court doesn't deprive a jury of making a decision. A motion to dismiss is a decision to deprive a trial by jury and that's a very high standard as a lawyer. It's very rare that a judge will deny a jury the right to decide factual disputes."

Trusty had told Burnett there was a fundamental problem with the case, based on what has been learned through media reports, as it doesn't have "an intent to defraud" as defined under New York state case law. "So you're going to see very robust motions I think in the near future, a variety of motions, perhaps motions to dismiss that I think may take this away," he said.

Some context: As CNN has reported, Cohen was a key player in the hush money scheme involving Stormy Daniels. The former Trump fixer facilitated the payments, made days before the 2016 presidential election, and was reimbursed by the Trump Organization for advancing the money to Daniels.

Cohen pleaded guilty to nine federal charges, including campaign finance violations, and was sentenced to three years in prison.

8:23 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

More prominent Republicans weigh in on Trump's historic indictment

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks with reporters on Friday, March 31. (CNN)

Republican lawmakers and former elected officials have spoken out about former President Donald Trump's historic indictment, many of them dismissing the allegations of misconduct as politically motivated.

Here are some of the officials from the former president's party who spoke out Friday:

Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin: Youngkin briefly chided Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the grand jury’s indictment.

"This is the prosecutor who told everybody he was going to go do this in order to get elected,” the Republican governor told reporters in Virginia.

(Bragg ran as a reformer, and on the campaign trail he highlighted his prior work on lawsuits against the Trump administration.)
Youngkin had come to Trump’s defense on Twitter Thursday night, without mentioning the former president by name. He wrote it’s “beyond belief” that Bragg “indicted a former President and current presidential candidate for pure political gain.”

In his remarks Friday, Youngkin pivoted to a call for the US to “put this kind of politics down," and said he is more concerned with helping Virginia residents than commenting further on divisive national narratives.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski: Murkowski warned in a statement to CNN against “rushing to individual judgment” on Trump’s indictment before hearing the evidence.

“I am monitoring Donald Trump’s legal situation as it unfolds. No one is above the law in this country, but everyone deserves a fair legal process. The indictment of a former President is unprecedented and must be handled with the utmost integrity and scrutiny," she wrote. “Instead of rushing to individual judgment, we must also evaluate the evidence as it becomes available and use it to inform our opinions and statements about what is actually happening.” 

Barr speaks at the National Review Institute summit held in Washington, DC. (CNN)

Former Attorney General Bill Barr: Barr, who served as attorney general under the Trump administration before stepping down over the former president's election lies, called the indictment a “political hit job,” arguing that it’s a “weak case.”

"It's the archetypal abuse of the prosecutorial function," Barr said at the National Review Institute summit held in Washington, DC. "It's a disgrace if it turns out what we think it is."

Nonetheless, Barr said he believed it would be politically damaging to the Republican Party. He called it a "no-lose situation" for Democrats, allowing them to focus the run-up to the 2024 election on Trump, either handing him the nomination or leaving the eventual nominee with another scandal to deal with.

But “legally, I think, from what I understand, it’s a pathetically weak case,” he said.

Read more reactions from the GOP here.

5:48 p.m. ET, March 31, 2023

Pence cautions House GOP about investigating Manhattan district attorney

Pence is interviewed by Fox News’s Neil Cavuto on Friday, March 31. (From Fox News)

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday cautioned House Republicans, who have threatened an investigation into the Manhattan district attorney, to “temper their inquiries" and not turn the case into an example of federal overreach in local affairs.
“I'm somebody who believes in federalism, and as wrong as this DA is, I have a check in my spirit about the federal government becoming involved in even wrongheaded local law enforcement or prosecutions,” he told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto in an interview. 
“And so I'd want our friends in the Congress to be judicious about that, careful about that. They can certainly ask questions, but at the end of the day, I think that this is a matter the American people see through, they see that politics is driving this decision.”

Pressed by Cavuto if he’s against Republicans’ requests for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to testify, Pence said: “Congress has every right to ask whatever questions that they want to ask.”

“But I think beginning with the premise that even bad decisions by state and local government are still an element of our federalism in the country," he continued. "So I just want them to — I'd want them to temper their inquiries to respect federalism."

What the GOP lawmakers are saying: Three House Republican leaders — House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, House Oversight Chairman Rep. James Comer and House Administration Chairman Rep. Bryan Steil – sent a letter last week calling for Bragg's testimony after former President Donald Trump warned he would be arrested.

The three chairmen accused the district attorney of conducting a politically motivated prosecution and wrote that they intend to investigate whether Bragg and his office used federal public safety funds as part of its grand jury investigation.