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Former President Donald Trump was indicted by a grand jury in New York Thursday — but that does not mean his 2024 presidential campaign is over.
Trump, who announced his candidacy in November, can still run for president.
“Nothing stops Trump from running while indicted, or even convicted,” said Richard Hasen, 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 Jan. 6 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.
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
WOLF: What 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?
WOLF: How would you define “indictment”?
HONIG: It’s a document setting forth formal charges against the defendant.
3 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.
Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is the adult film actress who was pushed into the spotlight after she was paid $130,000 by Donald Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to keep silent, days before the 2016 presidential election, about her alleged affair with the former president.
Trump, who denies the affair, was investigated over his involvement in the hush-money scheme in New York.
In March, Daniels met with prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office probing the payment, according to a tweet sent by her attorney, who said Daniels had “responded to questions and has agreed to make herself available as a witness, or for further inquiry if needed.”
In 2018, she wrote a book that detailed her meeting Trump in 2006 at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, and goes on to describe graphically her alleged sexual encounter with him. Daniels in 2021 said if she were asked to talk to investigators or a grand jury she would “tell them everything I know.”
The two parties have at times landed in court over Daniels’ non-disclosure agreement paid for by Cohen, but those lawsuits have been thrown out and the NDA deemed unenforceable.
On Thursday, her attorney Clark Brewster said he was the one to share the news of Trump's indictment with his client.
"She wasn't surprised because I really do believe over the last three or four weeks, particularly, it seemed to be likely or inevitable that an indictment would be returned," Brewster told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "But I think she's relieved. Really it's a fight against his rejection of the truth and his manufacturing of stories."
CNN's Nicki Brown, Kara Scannell and Devan Cole contributed reporting to this post.
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 Jan. 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 Jan. 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.
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.
Michael Cohen, ex-President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, is one of the key figures at the center of the Manhattan district attorney’s office probe into a $130,000 hush-money payment he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels for her silence over an alleged affair with his former boss. Trump has denied wrongdoing as well as the affair with Daniels.
Trump’s one-time fixer testified in March in front of the New York grand jury when it was weighing charges for the former president after speaking with prosecutors at least 20 times, he said.
Cohen 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.
In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about the Russia investigation, saying in court at the time that he lied “out of loyalty” to Trump.
Cohen joined the Trump Organization in 2007 where he worked as an executive vice president and as Trump’s legal counsel for over a decade.
CNN's Nicki Brown, Veronica Stracqualursi and Rachel Ventresca contributed reporting to this post.
While a number of Donald Trump’s Capitol Hill allies have been quick to defend the former president and criticize the indictment, one moderate Republican told CNN he trusted the legal system.
“I believe in the rule of law," said Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska. "I think we have checks and balances and I trust the system.”
Bacon said it was important to let the process play out.
“We have a judge. We have jurors. There is appeals. So I think in the end, justice will be done. If he’s guilty it will show up. But if not, I think that will be shown too,” Bacon told CNN.
Bacon stressed that his statements were not about whether he supported a Trump indictment or not, but about protecting the legal system.
“It’s not that I support or not support it. I just think our system works and I’m not going to question it. I don’t like the attacks on the overall legal system,” he said.
A yearslong probe into a hush money scheme involving former President Donald Trump and adult film star Stormy Daniels has led to him being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury for his alleged role in the scheme.
The indictment is historic, marking the first time a former US president and major presidential candidate has ever been criminally charged.
Here’s what to know about the hush money investigation:
What happens next: A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg released a statement Thursday saying the office has contacted Trump's attorney to "coordinate his surrender" for arraignment on "a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal."
"Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected," it added. Trump is expected to appear in court Tuesday for his arraignment, multiple sources tell CNN. Judge Juan Merchan is expected to preside, one source said.
How we got here: The Manhattan DA’s investigation first began under Bragg’s predecessor, Cy Vance, when Trump was still in the White House. It relates to a $130,000 payment made by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to Daniels in late October 2016, days before the 2016 presidential election, to silence her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the affair.
At issue in the investigation is the payment made to Daniels and the Trump Organization’s reimbursement to Cohen.
According to court filings in Cohen’s own federal prosecution, Trump Org. executives authorized payments to him totaling $420,000 to cover his original $130,000 payment and tax liabilities and reward him with a bonus.
The Manhattan DA’s investigation has hung over Trump since his presidency and is just one of several probes the former president is facing as he makes his third bid for the White House.
A rare case: The grand jury’s decision marks a rare moment in history: Trump is the first former US president ever indicted and also the first major presidential candidate under indictment seeking office. The former president has said he “wouldn’t even think about leaving” the 2024 race if charged.
The decision to bring charges is not without risk nor does it guarantee a conviction. Trump’s lawyers could challenge whether campaign finance laws would apply as a crime to make the case a felony, for instance.
Cohen’s role: Cohen, Trump’s onetime fixer, played a central role in the hush money episode and is involved in the investigation.
He admitted to paying $130,000 to Daniels to stop her from going public about the alleged affair with Trump just before the 2016 election. He also helped arrange a $150,000 payment from the publisher of the National Enquirer to Karen McDougal to kill her story claiming a 10-month affair with Trump. Trump also denies an affair with McDougal.
Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in jail, met with the Manhattan district attorney’s office earlier this month and praised Bragg for offering Trump the opportunity to testify.
What Daniels has said: For her part, Daniels, also known as Stephanie Clifford, met in March with prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office probing the payment, according to a tweet sent by her attorney, who said Daniels had “responded to questions and has agreed to make herself available as a witness, or for further inquiry if needed.”
She wrote a tell-all book in 2018 that described the alleged affair in graphic detail, with her then-attorney saying that the book was intended to prove her story about having sex with Trump is true.
Read more about the investigation here.
New York City prosecutors probing former President Donald Trump’s alleged role in a hush money scheme and cover-up were focused “on the evidence and the law,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said March 11.
Speaking on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation,” Bragg did not go into detail about what he called the “active investigation” but instead praised the “professionalism” of his prosecuting team.
“We follow the facts. It doesn’t matter what party you are, it doesn’t matter your background. What did you do? And what does the law say?” Bragg said, adding that he’s “constrained from saying anything more than that because I don’t want to prejudice any investigation.”
The investigation relates to a $130,000 payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in late October 2016, days before the presidential election, to silence her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.