What We Know About the Potential Indictment of Donald Trump

Ever since Donald J. Trump predicted his arrest just over a week ago, all eyes have been on the Manhattan grand jury hearing the evidence against him.

And while a grand jury may vote on impeaching the former president as soon as this week, in what will be the culmination of a nearly five-year investigation that has dogged him so far, the exact timing of any action on the matter remains a mystery.

The jury process is confidential. It is unclear whether more witnesses will be called to testify, or if other evidence will be presented by prosecutors.

Although the indictment was highly anticipated, voting time was subject to the vagaries of grand jury proceedings in Manhattan, which included scheduling conflicts and other unforeseen disruptions.

The evidence special grand jury hearings in the Trump investigation meet on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, though it is customary to hear evidence unrelated to that investigation on Thursday. The panel does not need to meet every day, but only sits when the district attorney's office summons jurors.

Timing of arraignment may also depend on the availability of the jury itself. Sixteen of the 23 grand jury must be present to conduct any business (and a majority must vote to indict the case to proceed). In order for prosecutors to request a vote, the jurors present that day must first hear all of the key witness testimony.

However, the prospect of being indicted has raised questions about the contours of a potential case facing Trump, who will become the first former American president to be indicted.

Alvin L. Bragg, the district attorney, focused on Trump's involvement in paying bribes to porn star Stormy Daniels, who said he had an affair with her. Michael D. Cohen, Trump's fixer at the time, made the payment in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Despite the dramatic facts, the case against Trump could hinge on untested legal theory. Confidence is far from certain.

In October 2016, during the final weeks of the presidential campaign, Ms. Daniels tries to sell the story of his affair with Mr. Trump.

Initially, representatives of Ms. Daniels contacted The National Enquirer to offer him exclusive rights to his story. David Pecker, a tabloid publisher and longtime ally of Mr Trump, had agreed to seek potentially damaging stories about him during the 2016 campaign, and at one point even agreed to buy stories of other women's affairs with Mr Trump and never publish them, a practice known as “catch and kill”.

But Mr. Pecker didn't buy Ms. Daniels. Instead, he and the tabloid's top editor, Dylan Howard, helped broker a separate agreement between Mr. Cohen and Ms.'s lawyers. Daniels.

Mr. Cohen paid $130,000, and Mr. Trump then reimbursed him from the White House.

In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to a number of charges, including federal campaign finance crimes involving hush money. The payment, according to federal prosecutors, was an improper donation to Trump's campaign.

In the days following Mr. Cohen, the district attorney's office opened its own criminal investigation into the matter. While federal prosecutors are focused on Mr Cohen, the district attorney's investigation will center on Mr Trump.

While pleading guilty in federal court, Mr Cohen pointed the finger at his boss. It was Mr. Trump, he said, who directed him to pay Ms. Daniels, an assumption later corroborated by the prosecution.

Prosecutors also raised questions about Mr. Trump to Mr. Cohen. They said in the court papers that Mr. Trump “falsely accounted for” the monthly payment as a legal fee and that company records cited a salary agreement with Mr. Cohen. Although Mr Cohen is an attorney, and became Mr Trump's personal attorney after he took office, there is no such payment agreement and the reimbursement is not related to any legal services performed by Mr Cohen.

Mr Cohen said Mr Trump knew about the fake follower agreement, an allegation that could form the basis of a case against the former president.

In New York, falsifying business records is a crime, even if it's a misdemeanor. In order to elevate the crime to a felony charge, the prosecutor Mr. Bragg had to demonstrate that Mr. Trump includes intent to commit or conceal a second crime.

In this case, the second crime can be a violation of the election law. While hush money is not inherently illegal, prosecutors could argue that the $130,000 payment effectively became an improper donation to Mr. Trump's campaign, based on the theory that it benefited his candidacy by silencing Daniels.

Even if Trump is indicted, convicting him or sending him to jail could be a challenge. For one thing, Mr. Trump's lawyers are sure to attack Mr. Cohen's credibility by citing his criminal record. (Prosecutors may argue that the former fixer lied years ago on behalf of his then-boss, and are now in the best position to detail Mr. Trump's behavior.)

The case against Trump may also hinge on untested legal theory.

According to legal experts, New York prosecutors have never combined charges of falsifying business records with violations of state election laws in cases involving the presidential election, or any federal campaigning. Since this is uncharted territory, it's possible a judge could throw it out or reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor.

Even if the charges were allowed to stand, it would be a low-level crime. If Trump is ultimately found guilty, he will face a maximum of four years, although prison time is not required.

The prosecutor in the prosecutor's office had signaled to Mr. Trump that he could face criminal charges.

They did this by offering Mr. Trump the opportunity to testify before a grand jury that had heard evidence in the investigation, said people familiar with the matter. Such offers almost always indicated an imminent charge; it is unusual for prosecutors to inform potential defendants without pressing charges against him.

In New York, potential defendants have the right to answer questions before a grand jury before they are indicted, but they rarely testify, and Trump turned down the offer.

Prosecutors have also questioned at least nine witnesses before the grand jury – including nearly every major player in the hush money saga, again suggesting that the prosecution's presentation is drawing to a close. Potential defendants can ask jurors to hear from witnesses on their behalf, but jurors can choose whether they want to do so.

There is still a small chance that Trump will not face charges. Mr. Lawyer Trump has met privately with prosecutors in hopes of deflecting charges.

After the grand jury witnesses have concluded their testimony, the prosecution needs to present an indictment and explain the law to a grand jury, which will vote on the indictment. It's unclear how long the process will take, as the cost is still unknown. While it's not yet certain that a grand jury will convict Trump, such panels routinely vote on the charges prosecutors are seeking.

Until then, Mr. Bragg may decide to apply the brakes. As of now, however, that seems highly unlikely.

Mr Trump called the investigation a “witch hunt” against him that began before he became president, and called Mr Bragg, who is black and a Democrat, a politically motivated “racist”. Last week, he stepped up his rhetoric, calling Mr Bragg a “beast” and insulting one of the lead prosecutors in the case. The former president has consistently denied having an affair with Ms. Daniels.

Last week, Trump, in a post on his social network, Truth Social, declared that his arrest was imminent, calling on his supporters to “PROTEST, BACK OUR NATION BACK!” — rhetoric reminiscent of his post leading up to the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Team Mr. Trump has launched a series of political attacks on Mr. Bragg and prepared to misrepresent any accusations as part of a coordinated Democratic attack against him.