The Road to Trump's Indictment and What Comes Next : Consider This from NPR Former President Trump has been indicted by a New York grand jury, making him the first former president in American history to face criminal charges.

The case involves hush money paid by Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump.

NPR's Andrea Bernstein says the lengths Trump's company went to cover up the hush money payment is part of a larger pattern of how Trump has long operated his businesses.

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The Road to Trump's Indictment and What Comes Next

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As a businessman, a candidate and as a president, Donald Trump has survived lawsuits, investigations, even two separate impeachments all virtually unscathed. Then came Thursday night.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: We have just gotten word former President Donald Trump has been indicted.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: It's the first time any ex-president has been charged in a criminal case.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: It would also mean that Donald Trump would be asked to surrender and face arraignment on charges yet to be announced.

CHANG: The story behind this indictment starts way back in 2006. That's when a porn star named Stormy Daniels claims that she and Trump had a consensual affair. She told Anderson Cooper about it in a 2018 interview for "60 Minutes."


ANDERSON COOPER: How was the conversation?

STORMY DANIELS: (Laughter) It started off all about him just talking about himself...

CHANG: Trump denies any sexual encounter with Daniels. For years, the public never learned the story. She told "60 Minutes" that in 2016, after Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, she started to get phone calls offering money for the rights to the story about the affair. But ultimately, Daniels agreed to a deal with Michael Cohen who was then a lawyer working for Donald Trump. He paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet.


COOPER: Was it hush money to stay silent?

DANIELS: Yes. The story was coming out again. I was concerned for my family and their safety.

CHANG: Trump has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for that payment. And now that hush money features in another investigation that has produced the first criminal charges Donald Trump has ever faced. CONSIDER THIS - the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and the cover-up Trump's company arranged - there's evidence that they reflect a larger pattern in the former president's business dealings. After the break, a deep dive into that history and a look at what comes next for Trump himself.


CHANG: From NPR, I'm Ailsa Chang. It's Friday, March 31.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Reaction to news of Trump's indictment by a Manhattan grand jury came quickly, loudly and, as you might expect, was starkly divided along political lines.


CHANG: Republicans echo the former president's framing of the case that this indictment amounts to political persecution. Here's former Vice President Mike Pence on CNN.


MIKE PENCE: I really do believe that this decision today is a great disservice to the country. The idea that for the first time in American history, a former president would be indicted on a campaign finance issue - to me, it just smacks of political prosecution.

CHANG: Meanwhile, Democrats like Congressman Adam Schiff of California said these criminal charges mean that the justice system is working as it should. Here he is on ABC.


ADAM SCHIFF: It's important, I think, for the establishment of the rule of law that we treat everyone equally whether they're a former president or an ordinary citizen. So I view this as an affirmation of the rule of law.

CHANG: One open question is whether this indictment will erode Trump's support among Republican voters. Scott Jennings, a longtime Republican strategist, doesn't think so. In fact, in the short term, he believes all of this could actually be politically beneficial to Trump. Jennings says the vast majority of Republicans agree the charges are politically motivated. But...

SCOTT JENNINGS: This is one case. He's facing problems in Georgia. He's got the January 6 investigation, the Mar-a-Lago documents - I view this over the long term. And I view these investigations like a sack, and you're putting rocks in a sack. This may ultimately be one of the smaller rocks. Maybe it's just a pebble. But if you were to add it to, say, other indictments for more serious issues, maybe it's overall not a good thing to be indicted.

CHANG: We won't know how this Manhattan indictment stacks up against the other investigations into Trump until the charges are unsealed. But what we do know is that Trump's company went to some lengths to cover up a hush money payment, and that detail doesn't seem out of sync with the way Trump has long operated his businesses according to NPR's Andrea Bernstein. She wrote about Trump's business history in her book "American Oligarchs: The Kushners, The Trumps And The Marriage Of Money And Power." And she spoke with my colleague Adrian Florido.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Let's start with the current indictment. What do we know about what's in it?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So the indictment has not yet been unsealed. And typically, this does not happen until a defendant faces a judge. For Trump, it's scheduled for Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. We do know that Trump has been under investigation for falsifying business records, which is an E felony in New York. And specifically, we know that Trump's attorney at the time, Michael Cohen, personally paid a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 campaign. We know this in part because Cohen himself explained the whole scheme to Congress in 2019, and he had the receipts.


MICHAEL COHEN: I am providing a copy of a $35,000 check that President Trump personally signed from his personal bank account on August 1 of 2017 when he was president of the United States pursuant to the cover up, which was the basis of my guilty plea, to reimburse me - the word used by Mr. Trump's TV lawyer - for the illegal hush money I paid on his behalf.

BERNSTEIN: There is more. Cohen told Congress and the DA's office that he discussed the payments with Trump shortly after he was elected president in the White House.


COHEN: And it's truly awe-inspiring. He's showing me all around and pointing to different paintings, and he says to me something to the effect of, don't worry, Michael, your January and February reimbursement checks are coming. They were FedExed from New York, and it takes a while for that to get through the White House system.

FLORIDO: Andrea, so those January and February checks were to pay Cohen back for the hush money. That is the alleged falsification of business records here?

BERNSTEIN: Correct. And this is allegedly a pattern for Donald Trump. His company was just convicted last December in New York for multiple counts of felony fraud for lying to tax authorities, or take another case in New York, a $250 million civil case brought by the attorney general, Letitia James, that is set to go to trial in the fall of 2023. She has presented evidence that Trump and his family over the course of years kept lying about the value of their assets. Like, when Trump wanted to get a loan, he allegedly boasted that his triplex in Trump Tower was three times as big as it was, worth hundreds of millions of dollars more. And then when he had to pay taxes, he would undervalue his properties to pay less, according to the AG.

FLORIDO: So this isn't new for Trump's company, then, is it?

BERNSTEIN: Nope. And it goes all the way back to Donald Trump's father, Fred Trump, who - in the 1950s, Fred was subpoenaed by the Senate Banking Committee to talk about business records he kept when he wanted to get federal loans. For example, when it came to a parcel of land by the beach in Brooklyn, Fred Trump told tax authorities it was worth $180,000. But when he wanted to get a federal loan, he said it was worth almost 10 times that amount. A decade later, Fred Trump was investigated for something similar. It was referred to the Brooklyn DA, but it went nowhere. And as one investigator acknowledged at the time, these people are untouchable.

FLORIDO: Well, like his father, Donald Trump has remained untouchable until now despite many investigations. How has he managed to pull that off?

BERNSTEIN: So sometimes it's been a charm offensive. Sometimes it's meant cozying up to prosecutors and judges, and sometimes it's meant bullying. So, for example, in the early 1970s, Donald Trump was investigated by federal prosecutors for his role in a land deal. And he charmed the FBI agents who were investigating it by inviting them down to his office, where his then-wife Ivana and toddler son Don Jr. were playing. The Trump business was investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for racial discrimination in the early 1970s, and Donald Trump, at the instructions of his lawyer Roy Cohn, told them to go to hell. That case was settled without any admission of guilt. Also, over the years, Trump has been very generous to prosecutors. He gave them campaign contributions. He took them to lunch. He donated to their favorite charities. He invited them to their - his daughter's wedding. And for five decades as a New York and New Jersey businessman, he was never charged with a crime until now.

FLORIDO: So let's talk about that. How has it finally caught up with him?

BERNSTEIN: So it might not have had he not stopped paying Michael Cohen's lawyers back in 2018 and started calling him a, quote, "rat." Cohen, as we just heard, just pleaded guilty in 2018. And he said at his sentencing that he was committed to, quote, "ensuring that history will not remember me as the villain in this story." Donald Trump has denied any wrongdoing. And, of course, he is innocent until proven guilty.

FLORIDO: What are you watching for next, Andrea?

BERNSTEIN: So next week there will be an unprecedented arraignment in Manhattan. We are looking at Donald Trump coming in, getting fingerprinted, walking down a long hallway in the New York City Criminal Courts building, which really has seen better years - it is a far cry from Trump Tower - and then appearing before a judge to hear the charges read and to enter his plea. After that, he is expected to - if past is prologue, to - his lawyers will be appealing this as much as they can. They've already said very clearly they think this is a weak case without really even seeing what the case is. But we expect them to appeal. We expect them to try to delay if past is prologue. Congress has gotten involved and says it will investigate this. And there's a campaign coming up to fit all of this into.

CHANG: That was NPR's Andrea Bernstein talking with my colleague Adrian Florido.


CHANG: OK. So some of what happens next will depend entirely on the former president himself, like whether he turns himself in, how he defends himself against the allegations and whether he continues to publicly accuse prosecutors of orchestrating a, quote, "witch hunt." For a window into Trump's strategy, we reached out to Jim Trusty. He's a lawyer representing Trump in the probe over his handling of government records after leaving office, and my colleague Juana Summers asked Trusty if he would be able to confirm whether Trump will turn himself in to the Manhattan DA next week.

JIM TRUSTY: I assume that's correct. I haven't verified that on the inside, but I certainly heard enough public reporting to think it probably is true.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: OK. Do you have any more specific information about these charges?

TRUSTY: Well, you know, it's been a series of leaks. You know, a grand jury is supposed to be a secret proceeding. This indictment is supposed to be sealed, and we're already talking about it. So, again, when President Trump is involved, there's apparently no real rules. But it does give us a little bit of transparency in terms of what we think are going to be the charges. And, again, it's early. We've heard rumors of 34 counts or 30 counts, but it appears to be this. The sum and substance of it relies on a very frail legal notion that you can take this misdemeanor of false record keeping and somehow turn it into a felony based on a federal predicate.

The legal issue in terms of trying to establish a specific intent to support these misdemeanors is lacking. So we'll see what the indictment looks like. But it won't surprise me at all if there's a very robust, very timely motion to dismiss based on this kind of ridiculous, unheard of, unprecedented legal theory of Alvin Bragg that you can somehow infer a specific intent to defraud when there was none that ever occurred.

SUMMERS: On what grounds do you believe there will be a motion to dismiss the case to be filed? And how quickly do you think we might see something like that?

TRUSTY: Well, on the grounds that it's a completely political persecution. So, you know, I know that the attorneys on the New York team are going to be aggressive. They're going to jump right in on this. When they have a chance to review the indictment, I think they'll recognize that it's in the president's interest and the public's interest to get this to the judge on a motion to dismiss early and to have an opportunity to really stop a historic wrong with this politicized prosecution.

CHANG: That was Jim Trusty, a lawyer representing Trump, talking to my co-host Juana Summers.



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