What would happen if charges were brought against President Trump today?
Almost seven years after the money changed hands, Donald Trump may be prosecuted in New York as soon as this week for allegedly concealing hush money payments to a porn actress during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The latter months of the 2024 presidential campaign, when Trump is seeking reelection, might overlap with any trial of the former US president, according to legal experts.
Trump urged his supporters to protest in a social media post he published on Saturday, in which he stated he anticipated being detained on Tuesday. But, a spokeswoman subsequently claimed that Trump had not been informed of any impending arrests. A New York grand jury has heard testimony from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on a $130,000 payment made to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign in return for her quiet over an alleged affair. Trump has denied having an affair, and his attorney has charged Stephanie Clifford Daniels, who goes by Daniels, with extortion.
Trump would be the first former president of the United States to be charged with a crime. Polls place him ahead of other prospective Republican challengers, including as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely anticipated to run for president.
According to Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former chief assistant district attorney for Manhattan, the average criminal case in New York takes more than a year to go from indictment to trial, and Trump's case is by no means ordinary. As a result, it is possible that Trump might be placed on trial during the 2024 election cycle or even after Election Day. But, putting a president-elect or president on trial for state offences would be unprecedented in the legal landscape. He wouldn't have the authority to exonerate himself of state accusations if he were elected. "This is so unprecedented that it's impossible for me to answer," Agnifilo said when asked if a court would put Trump on trial close to the election. It's tough, in my opinion.
The New York case is one of many involving Trump, including an investigation into election meddling in Georgia, two federal probes into his involvement in the assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 by his supporters seeking to overturn his defeat, and one into his retention of classified documents after leaving the White House.
Contesting the situation
The notoriously litigious Donald Trump has used aggressive counterattacks and delay strategies when faced with legal issues throughout his early career in real estate, as a television personality, and later in politics.
Trump has claimed that Bragg, an elected Democrat, targeted him for political benefit and may attempt to have the charges dropped on that basis. Trump would probably also explore other options, some of which would create complex legal challenges that take considerable time to overcome.
Trump paid Cohen back for the Daniels payments while he was president, and federal prosecutors who accused Cohen said in court documents that the payments were erroneously documented as being for legal services. The most probable charges against Trump, according to The New York Times, which cited sources, would be for fabricating company documents, which is normally a misdemeanour.
Prosecutors must demonstrate that Trump fabricated documents to hide a second offence in order to convert that accusation to a felony.
The Times reports that one possibility is that prosecutors may claim that the payment itself broke state campaign finance law since it essentially constituted an unauthorised covert gift to advance his candidature.
Experts warned that using state election law to strengthen an allegation of fraudulent business records is an unproven legal theory, and Trump's attorneys would be likely to contest it.
Trump might potentially contest whether the statute of limitations - five years in this case - should have run out. The statue of limitations may be extended under New York law if the defendant has been out of the country, but Trump can claim that the office of president of the United States should not count as being out of the country.
There are several options, according to David Shapiro, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and a former FBI agent and prosecutor.
"This is a defence lawyer's ideal case,"
mugshot and forensic evidence
Trump would soon be required to fly to the district attorney's office in downtown New York to turn himself in if he were to be charged.
In white-collar cases, the defendant's attorneys and the prosecution usually agree on a day and time before making an arrest. Trump would appear in court for his arraignment after having his fingerprints and mugshot taken.
According to analysts, he would probably be freed on his own recognisance and permitted to return home. Joseph Tacopina, Trump's attorney, said on Friday on CNBC that if prosecuted, Trump would turn himself in.
Prosecutors may try to have Trump extradited from Florida, where he presently lives, if he refused to enter the country freely. In an odd twist, DeSantis' job as governor would generally require him to formally approve an extradition request, even though Florida law experts indicated it would be simply administrative.