Historians love to keep track of presidential firsts. First president to fly in an airplane. That was Theodore Roosevelt. First president to serve Nonconsecutive terms. Grover Cleveland, the first black president. Of course, was Barack Obama. I could go on and on. Well, no U.S. president, current or former, has ever been charged with a crime until now.
We have major breaking news, indeed, historic breaking news right now.
Last week, a grand jury in Manhattan voted to indict former President Donald Trump, setting up an unprecedented legal clash.
You are already seeing the former president weigh in. He is attacking Alvin Bragg the Manhattan district attorney here.
Sources tell CNN the former president is facing more than 30 counts there related to business fraud and he is expected to turn himself in on Tuesday.
While this would be a big deal no matter what. Let's not forget Trump is making another run for the White House as we speak. So it's understandable if you have questions about this. And my guests this week, his answers. CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid, is here. And we're going to break down what we know, what we don't, and why this case could end up being the least of Trump's legal worries as we approach 2024. From CNN, This is one thing. I'm David Rind.
Paula we're talking on Friday morning in full transparency. Things are moving fast here. But I realize that not everybody has been following every twist and turn of all of these investigations. So, first of all, what is this case and how did we get here?
Well, let's go back to 2016, a couple of weeks before the presidential election. And at this time, a woman that I think most people know by now, adult film star Stormy Daniels. She reached out to a representative to the company that publishes The National Enquirer saying that she was willing to sell her story about an alleged affair with then candidate Trump. Now, this is an affair that he denies. Now, then candidate Trump had a long standing relationship with David Pecker, who is the executive at AMI, the publisher of the National Enquirer. They had a long history of pumping out favorable stories and killing ones that were not so favorable to Mr. Trump. So when Pecker got word of this again, this is the final weeks leading up to the election. You had the Access Hollywood tape out there. You have Hillary's emails. Very close historic race. He reaches out to then candidate Trump's then personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
A key claim as Trump's 2016 campaign came to the wire. She says she was paid $100,000 to keep quiet about him.
And Cohen arranges this hush money payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels for her not to go public with her story.
The idea is you pay this money and you be quiet about this story.
And nothing illegal about that. Nothing illegal about having an extramarital affair, allegedly, and nothing illegal about entering into a contract to stay quiet about that.
Did the alleged payoff come from campaign funds and was that a violation of campaign finance laws? Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who went to prison over that alleged hush money, says yes and that Trump knew about it.
The problem becomes how Cohen is reimbursed, because eventually Cohen gets reimbursed by the Trump Organization for well over $400,000. And there are questions about exactly how he was reimbursed and whether they were on the up and up in terms of how this was reported and how this money was given back to Cohen.
What did prosecutors ask you? What can you tell us about the grand jury?
I really can't talk about any of the topic. Obviously, you know that one of them deals with the hush money payments.
But I know Michael Cohen has a long and complicated history of his own here. He has, of course, admitted to nine felonies, several of which were related to lying and not only lying to the Congress, but also in his personal business dealings as well. So he is the witness at the center of this case, because, remember, he's the one who arranged this hush money.
Their questioning of me started out at like 35,000 feet. And by the time that I hit the 20th interview, we were down to like three feet ready to land. The grand jury was the actual take off back to the we'll call it accountability-ville.
You can talk about how this arrangement came to be, how he was reimbursed, but his story has allegedly changed over time to. His former attorney says Cohen told him that this hush money payment was all his idea or subsequently, that story has evolved. So Michael Cohen is at the center of this case. He's gone before the grand jury here, but he's complicated because, again, he's gone to jail for crimes related to this, but also several of his own that have nothing to do with Trump.
And can you remind us how a grand jury works? Like how does an indictment come to be?
Sure. So what's wild here is that conduct that all would have been seven years ago in this case has been under investigation for about five years. So it's unusual over the past couple months when this suddenly started heating up again. And it's not clear why. But we saw witnesses going before the grand jury and the grand jury. Everything is done in secret with a grand jury. This is about 23 people. Not every day. They need a certain number in New York, but it's approximately 23 people in the grand jury hearing evidence that is presented to them on several different cases. So this grand jury doesn't just hear Trump stuff. They hear other cases as well. And then if the prosecutor wants to sort of test their case, they can go before the grand jury, present it and try to get an indictment. Now, the famous saying is you can indict a ham sandwich. It's not that hard to get an indictment.
But Donald Trump, not a ham sandwich.
He's not a ham sandwich. He's a former leader of the free world. But I am told by sources that there have been multiple witnesses. Obviously, we've seen those, but also a lot of documents that have gone before the grand jury.
Okay. And so what exactly do we know, if anything, about these charges?
So the charges are still under seal. Even Trump's own lawyers don't know what he has been charged with. But, of course, of course, our own John Miller knows a little bit. He knows everything. And he says that these are over 30 counts of charges related to business fraud, which tracks with what we know, but that count is really high. So the question is whether this is like every individual document that was signed and filed related to these. If this extends to other hush money payments like the ones that were given to Karen McDougal, another woman who allegedly had an affair with the former president. So that's all we know is that from John's reporting, the charges will be unsealed Tuesday when the former president goes for his initial appearance.
All right. And I want to get to that in a second. But obviously, this is all unprecedented in any legal case against Trump would be hugely unprecedented. Do we have a sense of like how theoretically they would approach this, the strength of their case? What do we know?
So there's been a lot the big question one of the biggest questions is why now? And we can't speculate because we don't know the strength of the case. We don't know the evidence that they have, but they are up against something pretty significant here because you're fighting this not only in the actual court where they've already said they're going to file a motion to dismiss, they being the Trump's lawyers, they're going to fight this tooth and nail. Their goal is to try to kill this before it even gets to trial. But they're also fighting in the court of public opinion. And Brad is the prosecutor doesn't want to say too much. He doesn't even want to talk until there's an arraignment. And in that void, Trump is filling the void there with accusations of political bias. So this is going to be fought not just in in the courthouse in downtown Manhattan, but also in the court of public opinion.
What else are we hearing from Trump?
So already this morning, Trump is attacking the judge that he is expected to appear before on Tuesday. That is not a great idea. It's one thing, legally speaking. No, really don't attack judges people. I think that in this particular case, he his political attacks are better aimed at the district attorney. Right. Because that is the adversary in this process. The judge is the arbiter. This is the person who's going to be calling balls and strikes. So, again, attacking judges. I'm sure his lawyers are not pleased with this. But you can't look, you can't rein this in.
So Trump is expected to turn himself in on Tuesday. What the heck is that going to look like?
Well, we've never seen this before. So he wants to appear in person and the district attorney is inclined to try to treat this as they would any other defendant. So we expect that he will turn up at a given time for his arraignment, which happens before a judge. He is briefly taken into custody, fingerprinted, photographed. We don't expect that he'll be handcuffed because of the nature of the crime and the extenuating circumstances. But he has Secret Service detail still. So logistically and from a security standpoint, this is a real this is a real challenge. And that courthouse, I cover a lot of federal cases where the courthouses are not terribly populated, heavily secured. I mean, gosh, the downtown Manhattan state courthouse, that is a circus on just Tuesday afternoon. So you add Trump in the mix. I mean, it could be pretty crazy down there.
So that's all in this New York case. What other legal issues is Trump currently facing? Because it's every other day I hear about some other investigations somewhere else. Like what? What should we be looking out for?
The former president is facing several investigations. Clearly, New York is the most imminent because charges have been filed. But there are some that people would argue are more potentially more consequential because they focus on bigger issues. For example, in Georgia, he's under investigation for trying to interfere in that state's election. That is a state level case. So even if he was to potentially get a pardon one day from himself or someone else, that doesn't clear you of these charges. The D.A. down there, Fani Willis, she had a special grand jury that looked at this and made recommendations for charges. But we don't know if the former president will be charged. But even his own lawyers say that is the case that they were most worried about because of the evidence down there.
Former President Donald Trump
I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.
And this was the phone call to Brad Raffensperger.
Former President Donald Trump
And even if you cut them in half, cut them in half and cut them in half, again, it's more votes than we need.
Several calls. Yes, to officials applying pressure on Georgia officials to try to flip Georgia to impact the outcome of the 2020 election. So a lot of high profile witnesses down there to testify before that grand jury. We don't expect any announcement on potential charges there before May. Then in D.C., you also have special counsel Jack Smith. He is investigating both the possible mishandling of classified documents at Mar a Lago and whether the former president tried to obstruct that investigation. And he's also investigating January six and the former president's role in trying to interfere in the election and the violence that happened on January 6th.
There's a lot there's a lot of problems. Now, it's not clear if Jack Smith will charge him. But again, the the types of things that we're talking about and again, going up against a special counsel at the Justice Department, that's a very well resourced, experienced group of folks. Now, the former president has the resources to fight any potential charges, but he is he has a lot of legal problems, and that's to say nothing of all the civil cases.
So here's a maybe a silly question. Can Trump still run for president if he's been indicted.
And even charged in New York? Yes, he can be convicted in New York and there's no problem with him running.
So he can keep running. And how are his allies and even potential challengers as he runs for president reacting to this?
They're circling the wagons.
Former Vice President Mike Pence
Well, I think the unprecedented indictment of a former president of the United States on a campaign finance issue is an outrage.
Senator Lindsey Graham
I know, but who's legal in New York? But this is legal voodoo.
Even Ron DeSantis jumped on this as political were concerned about this. Their line of attack is that this is a politically motivated prosecution.
Rep. James Comer
This is a political stunt. I mean, if this were the first case against Donald Trump, if this were the first time anyone had gone after Donald Trump, it might be different.
We can't speculate about the strength of the case because we haven't seen the charges. We haven't seen the evidence. But there is this outstanding question of why Barack decided to pursue this now after so long, because he was coming under a lot of pressure of late about why he didn't do this. Is he doing this to satisfy his base? We don't know because he hasn't answered that question and we haven't seen the charges. So in the absence and that void, Trump and his surrogates are filling it with pretty strong accusations of political bias.
And Bragg is a Democrat, Right? Is that kind of where some of these accusations come from?
Yes. He's a Democrat and he's elected in the city of New York. That is, of course, bright blue. And he is a prosecutor who is elected. And the former president's attorneys argue that elected prosecutor should not be able to investigate. Former presidents, certainly, and maybe former politicians, because they believe it can be it can be weaponized. But it's not like this is the first time Trump has been under investigation. He says he tends to give investigators a lot to work with. But this is, of course, the first time he's been charged.
Well, that's a great explainer, Paula. Thank you.
One thing is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by Paola Ortiz and me. David Rind. Matt Dempsey is our production manager. Faiz Jamil is our senior producer. Greg Peppers is our supervising producer. And Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of CNN Audio. Thanks, as always for listening. We'll be back next Sunday. Talk to you then.