Former President Donald Trump was indicted Thursday evening by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; a highly anticipated move built on grand jury testimonies and legal efforts from numerous people connected to the case.
Although the indictment, which was filed under seal, hasn’t been revealed yet, it relates to a 2016 exchange of money between adult film star Stormy Daniels and Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen for an alleged hush money payment organized just before Trump’s presidential win. The allegations have been circulating for years, but new names have continued to join the case.
From defense attorneys to potential testifiers, to the prosecutor who made the indictment happen, here’s who to know surrounding Trump’s indictment.
Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, is an adult film actor who since 2018 has publicly alleged that she had sex with Trump in 2006, a claim which Trump has denied, accusing her of extortion.
In 2016, just weeks before the election, Daniels’ lawyer approached the National Enquirer saying that she was willing to go on the record about the affair. Leaders at the Enquirer—who later said they had a deal with Trump to keep coverage of him positive—put Daniels’ lawyer in touch with Trump’s then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, rather than buying her story.
In October 2016, Daniels received $130,000 in a lump sum payment from Cohen, which federal investigators verified in 2018. Daniels and Cohen have both said that the payout was approved by Trump in exchange for Daniels’ silence about their sexual encounter. Daniels signed a nondisclosure agreement at the time, which she asked the court to nullify in 2018 once the secret about the payment was out and she began speaking about the affair with the press.
“Thank you to everyone for your support and love! I have so many messages coming in that I can’t respond…also don’t want to spill my champagne,” Daniels tweeted Thursday after the indictment.
Over the years and reinvigorated since the indictment, Daniels has received threats and online hate from zealous Trump supporters. Daniels’ lawyer told the media this week that she wasn’t surprised about the indictment.
“Trump is no longer untouchable,” Daniels told the Times on Friday. “He’s done so much worse that he should have been taken down [for] before. I am fully aware of the insanity of it being a porn star. But it’s also poetic; this p*ssy grabbed back.”
“Signing the NDA and taking the hush money was actually the greatest gift that I gave. Because it’s what made it illegal, which made it possible to actually go after him,” Daniels added.
Once Trump’s former trusted confidante, Michael Cohen was his personal attorney and fixer for over 10 years. The two worked incredibly closely, with Cohen going so far as to proclaim that he would take a bullet for Trump. From 2017 and 2018 while Trump was in office, investigators looked into Cohen’s finances, finding mounting concerns and prompting Cohen to flip his loyalty to cooperate with investigators.
In January 2018, the Wall Street Journal first reported that Cohen had organized the $130,000 payment to Daniels. Coming under scrutiny, Cohen originally said that Trump wasn’t involved, but later testified in front of a grand jury that Trump had instructed him to pay off Daniels and another woman, Karen McDougal, to avoid a scandal before the election.
Records showed that after the deal with Daniels, Trump paid Cohen the equivalent $130,000, although Trump defended the money as legal fees. Investigators refute that there were no such legal services at the time.
The attorney opened up about other fraudulent activity and was sentenced to three years in prison in December 2018 for numerous crimes, which included campaign finance violations, evading taxes and lying to Congress. Cohen also cooperated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the Trump campaign colluding with Russia.
Over the years, Cohen’s staunch loyalty to Trump has dissipated and he’s admitted that he knew the things he was doing for the president were wrong; Cohen has called Trump out for racism and fraud.
“One of the things that Donald is going to do is he’s going to try to muck up the water for this investigation. He’s going to attack everyone. And we’re already beginning to see that,” Cohen told NPR on Friday. In statements to the press this week, Cohen confirmed that he’s been asked to stand by as a rebuttal witness in the case.
The Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a former white-collar prosecutor and civil rights attorney. Bragg became the first Black district attorney for Manhattan in 2022, campaigning on a platform to reform systemic issues in New York’s criminal justice system, such as eliminating cash bail and providing more survivor resources.
Upon becoming DA, Bragg took over the investigation into Trump’s role in the 2016 alleged hush money payment from Cohen to Daniels. Bragg initially worried that the case wouldn’t be strong enough to hold up in court and slowed the office’s investigation, prompting the two prosecutors leading it to resign out of protest.
Facing backlash over his decision, Bragg asserted that the investigation wasn’t over. “Unless y’all are great poker players,” Bragg told the New York Times in April 2022, “you don’t know what we’re doing.”
In January, after facing success in a different case prosecuting the Trump Organization for fraud and other financial crimes, Bragg bolstered efforts to revisit the hush money investigation. He convened a new grand jury that gathered testimonies and evidence to see if there was enough cause to indict Trump.
As House Republicans angered by the indictment attempted to intervene on Trump’s behalf, the DA’s office countered that they lacked jurisdiction. “Like any other defendant, Mr. Trump is entitled to challenge these charges in court and avail himself,” Bragg’s office wrote in a letter to Congress Friday. “What neither Mr. Trump nor Congress may do is interfere with the ordinary course of proceedings in New York State.”
The public face of Trump’s defense, Joe Tacopina, is a New York-based attorney who has had numerous famous clients, including rappers Meek Mill and Jay-Z. Tacopina is a former Brooklyn prosecutor who now heads a civil and criminal defense firm. He’s known for his chatty interviews, frequently appearing in tabloids while speaking on behalf of his celebrity clients. Tacopina was first recruited in January to represent Trump in a defamation case against former Manhattan prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, who wrote a book about his experience investigating Trump, “People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account.”
Tacopina began making press appearances shortly after Thursday’s indictment was announced, stressing that so far Trump’s defense doesn’t know what exactly the indictment contains and which or how many charges he could face. Tacopina told Fox News Thursday night that he was “shocked” by the indictment, but that Trump is “ready to fight.”
“You don’t bring a case like this on a former president on a petty allegation, on a completely legal civil transaction with attorneys unless you have the goods,” he added, mentioning potential problems with the statute of limitations and selective prosecution in Trump’s case.
Tacopina appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America Friday, saying that although Trump will not be taken in handcuffs at the upcoming arraignment, he can’t rule out a mugshot or a perp walk. “I’m sure they will try to get every ounce of publicity they can out of this thing,” he said.
Unhappy with her lawyer at the time, Daniels reached out to Clark Brewster in early 2019 to represent her in her heated legal battles against Trump. Brewster is a partner at his firm in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and according to his website, he focuses on complex litigation.
In a statement after the indictment was announced, Brewster said he places a great deal of respect in the grand jury and that he hoped the justice system will recognize that “no man is above the law.”
Following the indictment this week, Brewster told Tulsa World that he’s here to advocate for his client, not play a part in political partisanship. Brewster estimated that he spent thousands of hours working to represent Daniels, receiving waves of backlash and threats over it.
“I think if Donald Trump at some point in time would have stepped up and fully accepted responsibility and explained the basis for the nondisclosure agreement and all the circumstances, I don’t think there would be a charge,” Brewster told Tulsa World.
Former Playboy model Karen McDougal said she had a nearly year-long affair with Trump in 2006, which Trump denies. McDougal has said that Trump offered her money after their first sexual encounter, but that she was not interested in taking it.
In 2016, around the same time that Daniels tried to sell her story about her relationship with Trump, McDougal was searching for similar opportunities. McDougal sold the exclusive rights of her story to the Enquirer’s parent company for $150,000. The story never ran and in 2018, in a deal with the federal prosecutors, the company admitted that its reason for purchasing the story was to suppress McDougal’s allegations.
In a 2020 interview with Law & Crime Network, McDougal said that she knew the affair was wrong, but that she had “repented” and had been “forgiven by Jesus.” When asked if she thought Trump had also come to that realization, McDougal said, “I can’t say what he has and hasn’t done with his wife and his family, but I doubt it.”
McDougal said she wishes she’d rejected the money and told her story to ABC like she originally planned to. “I just wish I had come clean in the beginning,” she added.
According to ABC, CBS and other outlets, the DA’s office is now investigating Trump’s role in the payment to McDougal in conjunction with the Daniels case. CBS reported that according to sources familiar with the matter, prosecutors have asked grand jury witnesses questions about the McDougal matter too.
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