Donald Trump is due to be fingerprinted and photographed in a New York courthouse next week as he becomes the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges in a case involving a 2016 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump’s expected appearance before a judge in Manhattan on Tuesday, as the Republican mounts a bid to regain the presidency, could further inflame divisions in the United States. A New York judge on Friday authorized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, to make the charges public, but it was not clear when he would do so.
For nearly two weeks, Trump has been using the various legal threats he confronts to raise money and rally supporters as he seeks his party’s nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden next year.
The first U.S. president to try to overthrow an election defeat, inspiring the deadly 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, has signaled he will continue to campaign even as he faces charges.
“I am not afraid of what’s to come,” Trump said in a fundraising email on Friday.
Trump has called himself “completely innocent.”
Biden, who defeated Trump in 2020, on Friday declined to comment on the indictment as he left the White House for a trip to storm-ravaged Mississippi.
After word surfaced on Thursday that Trump had been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury, he called himself the victim of political persecution.
The specific charges are not yet known, though CNN reported that Trump faced more than 30 counts related to business fraud.
Susan Necheles, a Trump attorney, told Reuters he will plead not guilty.
Another Trump lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said Trump will not have to wear handcuffs at his court appearance and will likely be released without having to post bail.
“He’s ready to fight. He’s gearing up,” Tacopina said in a phone interview.
The charges will likely be unsealed by a judge in the coming days and Trump will have to travel to Manhattan for the court appearance expected on Tuesday. Necheles said she did not expect charges to be unsealed until that day.
Any potential trial is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign.
Trump, 76, has accused Bragg of trying to damage his electoral chances. Trump’s claims have been echoed by many of his fellow Republicans and his potential rivals in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.
Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president and a possible 2024 candidate, said the charges send a “terrible message” to the world about U.S. justice.
“I’m very troubled by it,” Pence said at a forum in Washington.
Ahead of the indictment, the grand jury heard months of evidence about a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006.
“It’s vindication,” Daniels told the Times of London. “He’s done so much worse that he should have been taken down (for) before.”
Senior House of Representatives Republicans have vowed to investigate Bragg and demanded he hand over documents and other confidential material from the investigation. Bragg said Congress does not have authority to interfere with a New York legal proceeding and accused the lawmakers of escalating political tensions. Bragg’s office has been the target of bomb threats in recent weeks.
“You and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump’s efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges,” Bragg wrote in a letter to Republican lawmakers.
Aside from this case, Trump faces two federal criminal investigations into his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and his handling of classified documents after leaving office. Trump also faces a separate Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss in that state.
Officials have stepped up security around the courthouse in New York since Trump on March 18 called on his supporters to protest any arrest. A law enforcement source said police would close streets around the courthouse ahead of Tuesday’s expected appearance.
On Friday, media outlets were set up outside the courthouse but there was no sign of unrest or protests related to the case.
Trump appealed earlier this month for nationwide protests, recalling his charged rhetoric ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack, and warned last week of potential “death & destruction” if he were charged.
Outside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, a small group of people waved “Trump Nation” flags and cheered as cars passed by.
“I think he’s going to get more votes now because people will maybe wake up,” said Eve Knapp, a Trump supporter.
Merchandise vendor Ronald Solomon said sales of Trump-themed hats and t-shirts were up sharply after the charges were announced.
Some 44% of Republicans said Trump should drop out of the race if he is indicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.
Trump has escaped legal peril numerous times since the 1970s, when he joined his family’s real estate business.
In the White House, he weathered an investigation into his 2016 campaign’s contacts with Russia and two attempts in Congress to remove him from office.
Bragg’s office prosecuted Trump’s business on tax-fraud charges last year, leading to a $1.61 million criminal penalty, but Trump himself was not charged.
The presiding judge in that case, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, is expected to oversee the Daniels case as well, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Some legal experts have said Bragg might have to rely on untested legal theories to argue that Trump falsified business records to cover up other crimes, such as violating federal campaign-finance law.
The former president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he coordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels and to a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman, but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen.
Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign-finance violation in 2018 and served more than a year in prison. Federal prosecutors said he acted at Trump’s direction.