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Manhattan grand jury indicted ex-President Donald Trump — in a historic first

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump has been indicted in New York.

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

A grand jury spent months investigating hush money payments. It's the first time a former U.S. president faces criminal charges.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Ilya Marritz covers Trump legal matters. Ilya, we've been - what? - on indictment watch for about a couple of weeks now. So what do we know, and how do we know it?

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: We know the grand jury has 23 members, all New Yorkers. And after reviewing the evidence presented to them, at least 12 out of those 23, a majority, found there was reasonable cause to believe that Donald Trump committed a crime. It is the first time a former president has ever been indicted. That indictment is now under seal. That much we know. Now, the prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, has acknowledged the indictment's existence. He said he contacted Trump's legal team to arrange for the former president to surrender to authorities. Trump himself has called the move "political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history." That's a quote. His lawyers also had a statement. They said, he did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, so when will we know what charges have been brought against Donald Trump?

MARRITZ: Usually an indictment is unsealed on the day of a defendant's arraignment. So that would be when Trump comes in and is fingerprinted and enters a plea. And we expect that to happen soon. One of the challenges of covering any grand jury process is that it is secret by design. Now, we do know the grand jury was hearing witnesses like Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress, and Michael Cohen, the former Trump fixer who went to jail over hush money payments he made to purchase and prevent the publication of Stormy Daniels' story of having had an affair with Trump. That is a story Trump denies. Cohen made those payments just days before the 2016 election. But until we read that indictment, we don't know the specific charges Trump will have to defend himself against, and that's a good reason to treat headlines and hot takes with a little bit of skepticism.

MARTÍNEZ: Sure. Now, you've followed Trump's legal travails for a long time. I mean, what are your thoughts on what's happening?

MARRITZ: If it comes down to hush money paid to a porn actress, then in some sense, it's old news and a familiar fact pattern. We know that Michael Cohen wanted to block the publication of a story that could damage Trump's image during the 2016 presidential campaign. What's new and concerning here is everything surrounding the indictment. Here is an ex-president who is not afraid to use his words to attack prosecutors. He was doing it last night on social media. And by constantly assailing the justice system as rigged and corrupt, he's really telling his followers that they shouldn't trust institutions.

Now, as we know, Trump is also running for president. And at his recent campaign rally in Texas, he really aligned himself with the cause of the January 6 rioters. So this is a test of the system. It is happening in state court here in Donald Trump's hometown, New York City. The DA, Alvin Bragg, has not been on the job for long, but he does have some experience to draw on. He convicted two Trump business entities of tax fraud last year. I was in the courtroom. I saw him sitting there at the back, watching the trial. How do you prepare to try a president, though? That's something that's never happened before.

MARTÍNEZ: Right. It's never happened before. So what's going to happen next?

MARRITZ: DA Bragg has said many times that the justice system should treat an ex-president like any other defendant. I think that means we should expect Trump to be fingerprinted and photographed and then enter a plea. To pull this off, though, just the logistical challenge, the planning challenge - it's going to involve lawyers, cops, the Secret Service, the ex-president himself. Trump is not known for hiding from cameras, and I am certain there will be a lot of cameras there.

MARTÍNEZ: Ilya Marritz from NPR, thanks a lot.

MARRITZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ilya Marritz