Shortly before a grand jury in New York State indicts somebody, the person typically gets a chance to testify to the jury. The opportunity is a sign that the investigation is wrapping up and that prosecutors are giving the target a chance to tell his or her side of the story. Typically, the target declines to do so and waits to mount a defense until later.
In recent weeks, Manhattan prosecutors invited Donald Trump to testify to a grand jury that is looking into his undisclosed payment of hush money during the 2016 campaign to Stormy Daniels, a porn star with whom he allegedly had an affair. Many legal observers interpreted that step as a sign that the jury could indict Trump soon. Over the weekend, Trump said that he expected to be arrested this week.
If that happens, it would be an unprecedented event. No other U.S. president, sitting or former, has ever been charged with a crime.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll help you prepare for a week that may be unlike any other in American political history. We will walk you through the issues in the Manhattan case and examine the arguments for and against charging Trump. We’ll also lay out the potential political consequences for him, the other 2024 Republican candidates and President Biden.
Hush money, the details
Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, Daniels received a $130,000 payment in return for staying silent about a decade-old claim of an affair with Trump. The payment came from Michael Cohen, then Trump’s lawyer, and Trump reimbursed Cohen with personal checks while Trump was president. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to crimes related to the payment and served a prison sentence.
(Here’s the fuller story behind the payoff, by our colleague Michael Rothfeld.)
If the grand jury does bring charges against Trump, the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, will oversee the case. And Bragg will likely accuse Trump of covering up the reimbursements to Cohen. Falsifying business records can be a felony in New York if done to conceal another crime. In this case, the other crime could be a violation of election law: Cohen’s payment to Daniels. The most likely charge Trump faces is punishable by up to four years in prison.
Why charge him?
There are two main arguments for doing so: the evidence and the larger context of Trump’s behavior.
The evidence that Trump broke the law seems substantial: It includes testimony from Cohen and others, as well as Trump’s personal checks to Cohen. The hush money and the cover-up of it, in the final weeks of a close presidential race, seem to have been a brazen violation of campaign finance rules. To overlook the violation could encourage future candidates to ignore the law, too.
It’s true that prosecutors have typically treated presidents with deference, but Trump is not like any other former president. He has repeatedly shown disdain for laws and traditions that predecessors from both parties followed: He told thousands of lies while in office; refused to participate in a peaceful transfer of power; used the power of the presidency to benefit his company; pressured a foreign leader to smear a political rival; and much more. At a certain point, the rule of law becomes meaningless if anybody can repeatedly ignore it.
Why not charge him?
There are also two main arguments for not charging Trump in the New York case:
This case would rely on combining two charges — falsifying business records to cover up a campaign finance violation — that New York prosecutors have never before combined in this way. “The case is not a slam dunk, to be sure,” said our colleague Ben Protess, who has been covering the case. (But Ben added that the charges could resonate with a Manhattan jury.) Some legal experts believe that the first criminal charges filed against a former president should not depend on a novel prosecutorial approach.
The federal government has a process — honed over decades, by both Democratic and Republican lawyers — for investigating presidents and candidates. (Trump, of course, is also a 2024 presidential candidate.) Local prosecutors have spent far less time thinking about the legal and political impact of doing so. In today’s polarized political environment, it’s not hard to imagine that an indictment in this case could lower the bar for partisan local prosecutors to bring future cases against national politicians.
The political impact
In the short term, an indictment seems likely to help Trump politically. It will draw attention to him, and he often performs best when he has a foil.
As our colleague Maggie Haberman told us: “I do think an indictment, if it happens, will galvanize his supporters. He will describe the case as trivial, a point some Democrats have argued, and he will insist it’s all part of a broader Democratic Party conspiracy against him to help President Biden in his re-election effort. He’s already fund-raising off it, and he will make selling this to his supporters as another instance of him being victimized central to his campaign.”
Nate Cohn, The Times’s chief political analyst, agreed: “Many G.O.P. elites will defend Trump, and there may even be some limited short-term upside here,” Nate said.
But Nate also thinks the risks to Trump’s 2024 campaign ultimately seem bigger than the potential benefits. An indictment — on top of Trump’s 2020 loss and the poor performance of his allies in the 2022 midterms — could become one more reason for some Republican voters to look for an alternative. “I think there’s plainly much more downside for Trump than upside,” Nate said.
When Maggie asked Liam Donovan, a veteran Republican strategist, for his view, he made a different but related point: An indictment may help Trump in the primary and hurt him in a campaign against Biden. “Legal escalation would be a significant blow in a general election where he needs to broaden his support, but any event that polarizes the primary in terms of pro- or anti-Trump sentiment only serves to harden his core support,” Donovan said.
The grand jury may hear today from a critic attacking Cohen’s credibility.
Republicans, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, are rushing to Trump’s defense.
Trump’s allies are pressuring Ron DeSantis, his rival, to speak out or risk alienating Republicans.
New York officials are drafting security plans for potential protests. But McCarthy has urged people to stay calm if Trump is arrested, Politico reports.
Trump is also facing a few other inquiries: into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in Georgia; his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol; and his potential obstruction of an investigation into classified documents.
Here are charges, including contempt of court and bookkeeping fraud, that could arise from the investigations.
THE LATEST NEWS
The Swiss bank UBS will buy its rival Credit Suisse for $3.2 billion. Switzerland brokered the agreement to try to contain a growing economic crisis.
Investors said the deal valued Credit Suisse so cheaply that it could prompt a reassessment of other banks’ value.
The Fed and other countries’ central banks are working together to steady the global financial system by making the dollar available for lending.
In the years before Silicon Valley Bank collapsed, it received repeated warnings from the Fed.
Xi Jinping, China’s leader, is visiting Russia today. He said he wants to broker peace with Ukraine, but the West sees the visit as a show of support for Vladimir Putin.
The U.S. is trying to limit Russia’s growing influence in Africa, starting with Chad.
America invaded Iraq 20 years ago today. The war haunts the U.S. government as a lesson in failed policymaking.
Sulaiman Fayadh Sulaiman, who was shot and paralyzed as a 3-year-old in Iraq, belongs to a generation of Iraqis traumatized by the war. Read their stories.
Other Big Stories
Avalanches killed two people in Colorado.
Burning space-station equipment lit up the sky in California as it re-entered the atmosphere.
A woman named an Olympic rowing legend in a sex abuse accusation.
Gail Collins and Bret Stephens discuss Silicon Valley Bank and Ron DeSantis’s views on Ukraine.
Banking is a critical form of public infrastructure that we pretend is a private act of risk management, Ezra Klein writes.
Golf between calls: Working from home has created an afternoon-fun economy.
Metropolitan Diary: A woman in a feather hat feeding her Pomeranian cannoli.
Quiz time: Take our latest news quiz and share your score (the average was 8.3).
Advice from Wirecutter: How to find the best running shoes for you.
Lives Lived: Cruz Miguel Ortíz Cuadra was a food historian and Puerto Rico’s leading gastronomy expert, defining the island’s cuisine. He died at 67.
SPORTS NEWS FROM THE ATHLETIC
An upset: Stanford fell to Ole Miss in the women’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournament yesterday. It’s the first time a No. 1 seed has missed the Sweet 16 since 2009.
Familiar loss: Kansas State knocked Kentucky out of the men’s tournament, fueling simmering resentment between Kentucky’s coach and fan base.
Team U.S.A. advances: The Americans will face either Mexico or Japan in the World Baseball Classic final after last night’s 14-2 romp over Cuba. A win would give Team U.S.A. back-to-back titles.
ARTS AND IDEAS
The sound of melting
Scientists who study the climate often record the sounds that ice makes, like the roar of glaciers as they glide and contract. The sounds are so intense that they have become a music genre, one that researchers and artists hope can help people understand global warming in a visceral way.
“When people like me start talking about melting ice, it seems so far-off and unconnected from our everyday lives,” said Grant Deane, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego. “Music can make those connections.”
Hear it: Listen to a Spotify playlist of ice music.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Sticky tomato meets crisp cheese in this cheesy white bean-tomato bake. It’s one of the recipes that kids love, a collection of dishes nominated by parents.
What to Read
“The Nursery” paints an honest, frightening and claustrophobic picture of new motherhood.
Hotels designed for a spring getaway.
Now Time to Play
The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was bullfrog. Here is today’s puzzle.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Tremble (five letters).
And here’s today’s Wordle.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow.
P.S. The original World Cup soccer trophy was stolen 57 years ago today in London. A dog named Pickles found it wrapped in newspaper on the ground a week later.
Here’s today’s front page.
“The Daily” is about TikTok.
Matthew Cullen, Lauren Hard, Lauren Jackson, Claire Moses, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Ashley Wu contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].
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