New York on edge over likely Trump indictment
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New York on edge over likely Trump indictment

Former president could be arraigned next week in porn star hush-money case

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (centre) arrives at the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York City on Wednesday morning. (Photo: AFP)
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (centre) arrives at the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York City on Wednesday morning. (Photo: AFP)

NEW YORK: A grand jury was set to reconvene in New York on Wednesday as it weighs whether to charge ex-president Donald Trump over hush money paid to a porn star.

With barricades outside Trump Tower and police on high alert, the city has been holding its breath over the expected indictment for days but the timing is uncertain.

The 76-year-old Republican would become the first former or sitting president to ever be charged with a crime if the panel votes to indict.

The unprecedented move would send shockwaves through the 2024 election campaign, in which Trump is running to regain office.

It would also raise the prospect of a former leader of the free world being arrested, booked, fingerprinted and possibly handcuffed.

Grand juries operate in secret to prevent perjury or witness tampering before trials, making it virtually impossible to follow their proceedings.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who was spotted arriving at his office on Wednesday morning, has not confirmed any plans publicly.

Some US media have speculated that the grand jury could take a vote on whether to indict when it reconvenes on Wednesday afternoon after not sitting on Tuesday. It is unclear when Bragg would announce any charges.

Legal experts have suggested it would likely be next week before Trump — currently at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — is arraigned before a Manhattan Criminal Court judge.

Bragg, an elected Democrat, formed the grand jury in January following an investigation into the $130,000 paid to Stormy Daniels in 2016.

The payment was made weeks before that year's election, allegedly to stop Daniels from going public about a liaison she says she had with Trump years earlier.

Trump denies the affair and has called the inquiry a "witch hunt."

Trump calls for protests

His ex-lawyer-turned-adversary Michael Cohen, who has testified before the grand jury, told Congress in 2019 that he made the payment on Trump's behalf and was later reimbursed.

The payment to Daniels, if not properly accounted for, could result in a misdemeanor charge for falsifying business records, experts say.

That might be raised to a felony if the false accounting was intended to cover up a second crime, such as a campaign finance violation, which is punishable by up to four years behind bars.

Analysts say that argument is untested and would be difficult to prove in court, and any jail time is far from certain.

An indictment would begin a lengthy process that could last several months, if not more. The case would face a mountain of legal issues as it moves toward jury selection and pose a security headache for Secret Service agents who protect Trump.

New York police erected barricades outside the courthouse and Trump Tower.

Trump had said, without evidence, that he would be arrested on Tuesday but the day passed with no signs of an indictment.

He has called for massive demonstrations if he is charged, fueling fears of unrest similar to the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol, but so far protests have been small and muted.

Trump is facing several criminal investigations at the state and federal level over possible wrongdoing that threaten his new run at the White House, many more serious than the Manhattan case.

They include his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state of Georgia, his handling of classified documents, and his possible involvement in the January 6 rioting.

Some observers believe an indictment bodes ill for Trump's 2024 chances, while others say it could boost his support.

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