Donald Trump Charged with 34 Felony Counts


The legal landscape in the United States has entered uncharted territory as a grand jury in Manhattan voted on March 30th to indict former President Donald Trump. This marks a historic event, as no other current or former U.S. President has ever faced criminal charges in the country’s history.

The legal case in question pertains to a payment of $130,000 made by Michael Cohen, who was then serving as President Trump’s personal attorney, to Stormy Daniels, a pornstar, in late October 2016, just a few days before the presidential election. This payment was allegedly intended to silence Daniels and prevent her from publicly disclosing her alleged affair with Trump, which reportedly occurred around a decade earlier.

Furthermore, the indictment claims that Trump was also involved in a broader scheme to suppress claims of sexual encounters with Playboy model Karen McDougal. Even more surprising, Prosecutors claimed that the publishing company American Media Inc., with which Trump has many ties, paid $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about Trump fathering a child out of wedlock.

Despite these allegations, Trump has consistently denied any involvement in the affair. It is alleged that former President Donald Trump was involved in all of these hush money payment schemes and the subsequent cover-ups. All three payments (to Daniels, McDougal, and the former Trump Tower doorman) were allegedly part of a “catch and kill” effort “to identify, purchase, and bury negative information about him and boost his electoral prospects” prior to the 2016 election, prosecutors said.

Executives at the Trump Organization allegedly authorized payments to Cohen totaling $420,000. These payments were meant to cover the initial $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels, as well as related tax liabilities and a bonus for Cohen. The Trump Organization reportedly recorded these payments as legal expenses in their internal financial records. Under New York State law, falsifying business records with the intention to defraud and conceal another crime is considered a felony, which is precisely the alleged offense in this case. Trump has denied any knowledge of the payment.

Legal Jargon Explained

It is important to note that Trump has not been convicted of any crimes, meaning he has not been found guilty. In order for him to be found guilty, he will need to be convicted by a trial jury. Rather, he has been charged by the State of New York and indicted by a grand jury. 

What is a grand jury? For those of you who have not taken AP Gov (or may not have paid much attention), the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a grand jury, with some limitations. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has interpreted this part of the Fifth Amendment to only apply to the federal government for felony crimes. This means that no one can be arrested by the federal government for a felony without first being indicted by a grand jury. This also means that states are not required to make use of a grand jury; however, most states do for serious crimes. In the case of New York State, they do use a grand jury for felonies. 

A grand jury is different from a trial jury (a.k.a. petit jury)! A grand jury does not decide guilt or innocence; rather, it decides if there is probable cause to arrest someone for a crime. If they find that there is probable cause, then the suspect is indicted (formally charged with a serious crime). Unlike a trial jury/petit jury, which requires a unanimous vote to find a person guilty of a crime, a grand jury only requires a majority vote. After this, the suspect is arrested and brought in for arraignment. 

During an arraignment, a person appears in court for the first time and is informed of the charges against them by a judge. The defendant is informed of their rights, including the right to a court-appointed lawyer if they cannot afford one. Afterward, the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty to the charges. If the defendant contests the charges, the judge may schedule a future hearing or trial.

Where is Trump in this process?

On Tuesday, Trump turned himself in and was brought to his arraignment. At this arraignment, Trump pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony charges presented against him. This hearing was the first time that the public and the media got access to the specifics of these charges and the amount of charges. The 29 page indictment is broken down below:

  • 11 counts related to invoices from Cohen. According to prosecutors, Mr. Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, presented fraudulent bills for legal services.
  • 11 counts related to checks. These checks were either written by Donald Trump or were using his funds.
  • 12 counts related to ledger entries. False accounting records made for reimbursements in Donald Trump’s financial records.

What happens next?

This is only the beginning of what will be a lengthy process. However, there are some things that will start to happen pretty quickly. Within 15 days of the arraignment (which was Tuesday 04/04), the State (a.k.a. the prosecution) must turnover all evidence gathered during the investigation. This is what is known as discovery because it is when the defense discovers all the evidence against them. We can expect plenty of motions. For example, Trump’s defense team will file a motion with the court to get the case dismissed before it even gets to trial. This may or may not be granted by the judge depending on the evidence presented during the discovery. In the end, it may take up to six months to a year for this case to reach trial, if it ever does.