Trump blasts 'witch-hunt,' invokes Jewish billionaire Soros

Trump indicted for porn star hush money, becomes 1st US president charged with crime

Felony indictment filed under seal by Manhattan district attorney’s office will likely be announced in coming days, upending 2024 race in which Trump seeking to return to office

This combination of file pictures shows US President Donald Trump speaking at a White House forum on March 22, 2018, in Washington, DC, and actress Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, arriving to perform at the Solid Gold Fort Lauderdale strip club on March 9, 2018 in Pompano Beach, Florida. (MANDEL NGAN and JOE RAEDLE / various sources / AFP)
This combination of file pictures shows US President Donald Trump speaking at a White House forum on March 22, 2018, in Washington, DC, and actress Stephanie Clifford, who uses the stage name Stormy Daniels, arriving to perform at the Solid Gold Fort Lauderdale strip club on March 9, 2018 in Pompano Beach, Florida. (MANDEL NGAN and JOE RAEDLE / various sources / AFP)

NEW YORK — A New York grand jury on Thursday indicted Donald Trump over hush money payments made to a porn star during his 2016 campaign, making him the first former US president to face criminal charges.

The historic indictment of the 76-year-old Republican — who denies all wrongdoing in connection with the payments made ahead of the election that sent him to the White House — is certain to upend the current presidential race in which Trump hopes to regain office.

And it will forever mark the legacy of the former leader, who survived two impeachments and kept prosecutors at bay over everything from the US Capitol riot to missing classified files — only to land in court over a sex scandal involving Stormy Daniels, a 44-year-old adult movie actress.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office confirmed that it had contacted Trump’s lawyers Thursday evening to “coordinate his surrender” for arraignment in New York — with the felony charges against him to be revealed at that point.

Trump slammed the indictment as “political persecution and election interference,” raging against prosecutors and his Democratic opponents and vowing that it would backfire on his successor, President Joe Biden.

Surrendering for arraignment — which Trump’s lawyers have said he would do if indicted — would normally involve him being fingerprinted and photographed, potentially even handcuffed.

News photographers stand on scaffolding to get a photo of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as he leaves his office, Thursday, March 30, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

In the Republican camp, Trump’s allies and sons denounced what they see as a vendetta aimed at derailing his 2024 campaign — while his expected challenger for the party nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, slammed the indictment as “un-American.”

Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House of Representatives, said the indictment had “irreparably damaged” the country.

But the top Democrat Adam Schiff — lead prosecutor of Trump’s first impeachment in 2019 — called it “a sobering and unprecedented development.”

“The indictment and arrest of a former president is unique throughout all of American history,” Schiff said in a statement. “But so too is the unlawful conduct for which Trump has been charged.”

An attorney for Daniels welcomed the news as proof that “no one is above the law.”

“The indictment of Donald Trump is no cause for joy,” Clark Brewster tweeted. “Now let truth and justice prevail.”

Prosecutors Matthew Colangelo, left, and Susan Hoffinger, right, leave a state office building , Thursday March 30, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Possible protests

On March 18, Trump had declared he expected to be arrested within days over the payment to Daniels — who received $130,000 weeks before the election that brought Trump to power, to stop her from going public about a tryst she claims they had a decade earlier.

In predicting his indictment, Trump also issued a call for demonstrations and dark warnings that it could lead to “potential death & destruction” that “could be catastrophic for our Country.”

His statement set New York on edge for possible protests but the prospect of a quick indictment had receded as the grand jury panel continued to hear witnesses — until Thursday.

A media scrum quickly gathered Thursday outside the district attorney’s office, along with a handful of anti-Trump protesters — but the situation was calm overall.

Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, who has testified before the grand jury, told Congress in 2019 that he made the payment to Daniels on Trump’s behalf and was later reimbursed.

Prosecutors argued the checks were not properly registered, and the jury was asked to consider if there had been a cover-up, intended to benefit Trump’s campaign by burying the scandal.

Members of the press wait for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to leave the District Attorney’s office in New York, Thursday, March. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

The New York investigation is the first to reach a decision on charges out of three major probes into the former president.

Trump also faces felony investigations in Georgia relating to the 2020 election and in Washington over the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by the ex-president’s supporters, who hoped to keep him in office after his election loss to Joe Biden.

‘Soros-backed prosecutor’

The former president also repeated his claim, now made daily in his campaign fundraising emails, that Jewish billionaire George Soros was behind the charge.

“Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who was hand-picked and funded by George Soros, is a disgrace,” Trump said in emails to reporters and in social media postings on Thursday. “Rather than stopping the unprecedented crime wave taking over New York City, he’s doing Joe Biden’s dirty work, ignoring the murders and burglaries and assaults he should be focused on.”

Soros, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and financier, has been at the center of countless conspiracy theories for decades, and was the target of a 2018 bomb scare carried out by a pro-Trump antisemitic attacker. He featured prominently in the conspiracy theories embraced by the gunman who massacred 11 worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018.

DeSantis said on Twitter he would not extradite Trump if Bragg tried to force the issue, and mentioned Soros twice, which stood out because he did not name Trump or Bragg in his statement.

“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” he said.

Bragg is among a number of liberal prosecutors backed in recent election cycles by Color of Change, a political action committee that Soros has funded. He was the largest donor to the group in the most recent election cycle, giving it $1 million out of the $4 million it raised. Beyond that relationship, there is no evidence that Soros is pressing any legal case against Trump.

Jewish groups that track antisemitism and Jewish security said they have been keeping an eye on Trump’s recent calls for protests in the lead-up to his indictment but noted that so far those posts have not attracted the groundswell of support that followed his past appeals. It is unclear whether the indictment or looming arrest will further galvanize Trump’s supporters.

US President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a rally in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Republican frontrunner

Trump, who is seen to be the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee in the 2024 election, has branded all of the investigations political persecution.

The impact of an indictment on his election chances is unpredictable, with critics and adversaries alike voicing concerns about the legal merits of the hush money case.

Detractors worry that if Trump were cleared, it could make it easier to dismiss as a “witch hunt” any future indictment in arguably more serious affairs — such as Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s election results.

The Manhattan charges will also likely juice turnout among Trump’s base, say analysts, boosting his chances in the party primary.

Trump staged his first presidential campaign rally in Texas on Saturday, addressing several thousand supporters — far fewer than the 15,000 he had expected — in the city of Waco, Texas.

“The innocence of people makes no difference whatsoever to these radical left maniacs,” he told the fired-up crowd.

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