Long before there has been any official communication from the prosecutors, former US President Donald Trump on Saturday declared on social media that his arrest is imminent and he expects to be taken into custody on Tuesday.
As a New York grand jury investigates hush money payments to women who alleged sexual encounters with the former president, Trump took to a social media post to write how "illegal leaks from a corrupt and highly political Manhattan district attorneys office" would lead to his arrest. There was no indication that prediction would come true, though the grand jury appeared to take an important step forward by hearing Monday from a witness favourable to Trump, presumably so prosecutors could ensure the panel had a chance to consider any testimony that could be remotely seen as exculpatory.
Through the post, Trump called for his base of supporters in advance of widely anticipated charges. Within hours, his campaign was sending fundraising solicitations to his supporters, while influential Republicans in Congress and even some declared and potential rival candidates issued statements in his defence.
In a later post that went beyond simply exhorting loyalists to protest about his legal peril, the 2024 presidential candidate directed his overarching ire in all capital letters at the Biden administration and raised the prospect of civil unrest: “IT’S TIME!!!” he wrote. “WE JUST CAN’T ALLOW THIS ANYMORE. THEY’RE KILLING OUR NATION AS WE SIT BACK & WATCH. WE MUST SAVE AMERICA!PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
What's the case about?
Former US President Donald Trump is under investigation over the payment of alleged hush money to adult film actor Stormy Daniels.
Daniels has in the past alleged that she and Trump had an affair around a decade ago and that she was paid $130,000 to stay quiet about it in 2016. While such hush money is not illegal and is not under investigation, the process of the payment is under investigation.
It's alleged that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid the hush money to Daniels and was later reimbursed by a Trump business entity. It's the irregularity in this reimbursement that's under investigation that began when Trump was still in White House.
The CNN says, "At issue in the investigation is the payment made to Daniels and the Trump Organization's reimbursement to Cohen. According to court filings in Cohen's own federal prosecution, Trump Org executives authorised payments to him totaling $420,000 to cover his original $130,000 payment and tax liabilities and reward him with a bonus."
It's the falsification of business records over the transactions that is under investigation, notes CNN.
CNN further says, "Prosecutors are weighing whether to charge Trump with falsifying the business records of the Trump Organization for how it reflected the reimbursement of the payment to Cohen, who said he advanced the money to Daniels. Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor in New York.
"Prosecutors are also weighing whether to charge Trump with falsifying business records in the first degree for falsifying a record with the intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal another crime, which in this case could be a violation of campaign finance laws. That is a Class E felony and carries a sentence of a minimum of one year and as much as four years. To prove the case, prosecutors would need to show Trump intended to commit a crime."
NY grand jury appears near end of its work
The next steps in a grand jury process shrouded in secrecy remained unclear, and it was uncertain if additional witnesses might be summoned. But a city mindful of the riot by Trump loyalists at the U.S. Capitol more than two years ago took steps to gird itself from any violence that could accompany the unprecedented prosecution of a former president, while fellow Republicans eyeing the 2024 presidential nomination sized up how an indictment might upend the race.
The testimony from Robert Costello, a lawyer with close ties to numerous key Trump aides, appeared to be a final opportunity for allies of the former president to steer the grand jury away from an indictment. He was invited by prosecutors to appear after saying that he had information to undercut the credibility of Michael Cohen, who later turned against him and then became a key witness in the Manhattan district attorney's investigation.
Costello had provided Cohen legal services several years ago after Cohen himself became entangled in the federal investigation into the hush money payments. In a news conference after his grand jury appearance, Costello told reporters that he had come forward because he did not believe Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal crimes and served time in prison, could be trusted.
“If they want to go after Donald Trump and they have solid evidence, then so be it,” Costello said. “But Michael Cohen is far from solid evidence.”
Responding to Costello's claims on MSNBC later Monday, Cohen said that Costello was never his lawyer and “he lacks any sense of veracity.”
There were no clear signs that Costello's testimony had affected the course of the investigation. Cohen had been available for over two hours in case prosecutors wanted him to rebut Costello's testimony but was told he was not needed, his attorney said Monday.
Trump, who has denied having sex with either woman, has branded Cohen a liar. Costello broke with Cohen before he pleaded guilty, after it became clear he was no longer in Trump's camp.
The testimony came two days after Trump said he expected to face criminal charges.
Is Trump going to be arrested?
The Associated Press reported that messages left on Saturday with the district attorney's office were not immediately returned. Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to calls for comment.
Trump did not provide any details on social media about how he knew about the expected arrest. In his postings, he repeated his lies that the 2020 presidential election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden was stolen and he urged his followers to "Protest, take our nation back!"
Law enforcement officials in New York have been making security preparations for the possibility that Trump could be indicted.
There has been no public announcement of any time frame for the grand jury's secret work in the case, including any potential vote on whether to indict the ex-president.
Trump's posting echoes one made last summer when he broke the news on Truth Social that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was searching his home as part of an investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents.
The grand jury in Manhattan has been hearing from witnesses, including former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who says he orchestrated payments in 2016 to two women to silence them about sexual encounters they said they had with Trump a decade earlier.
Trump denies the encounters occurred and says he did nothing wrong and has cast the investigation as a “witch hunt” by a Democratic prosecutor bent on sabotaging the Republican's 2024 presidential campaign.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office has apparently been examining whether any state laws were broken in connection with the payments or the way Trump's company compensated Cohen for his work to keep the women's allegations quiet.
Daniels and at least two former Trump aides —onetime political adviser Kellyanne Conway and former spokesperson Hope Hicks— are among witnesses who have met with prosecutors in recent weeks.
Cohen has said that at Trump's direction, he arranged payments totaling USD 280,000 to porn actor Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal. According to Cohen, the payouts were to buy their silence about Trump, who was then in the thick of his first presidential campaign.
(with AP inputs)