New York: Throwing a huge question mark over the 2024 election, former President Donald Trump may be criminally charged in connection with hush money he allegedly paid to silence Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, who said she had an affair with him, according to news reports.
A city prosecutor has “signalled” Trump’s lawyers that he could face criminal charges in the 2016 incident, The New York Times reported on Thursday evening citing unnamed sources.
NBC news also reported quoting his lawyers that Trump had been asked to appear before a grand jury investigating the case, which is usually an indication that an indictment or framing of charges was likely.
But he is not obligated to appear before the grand jury.
Trump reacted with a post on his social media platform, Truth Social, calling it a witch hunt and denying the affair with the porn star.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong, I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I have wanted to have an affair with Stormy Daniels,” whom he described as “horse face”, he said.
“This is a political Witch-Hunt, trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party while at the same time also leading all Democrats in the polls, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” he posted.
Public prosecutors in New York are elected officials and Alvin Bragg won as a Democrat.
It is now a race between Bragg and prosecutors in Georgia, where a grand jury has reportedly recommended filing charges against Trump for interfering with the 2020 elections by allegedly trying to pressure state officials to “find” more votes for him.
Bragg had convened a grand jury — a citizens’ panel — to investigate the allegations against Trump and decide if charges should be filed.
Under the legal system in the US, that is the first step in criminal cases and it is followed by the trial where a jury, also made up of citizens, hears the case under a judge and gives a verdict unless the accused asks to dispense with the jury and have the judge decide.
Being charged, standing trial or even convicted would not disqualify Trump from running for President under the US Constitution.
But the filing of charges and an eventual trial could come in the way of him getting the Republican Party’s nomination to run for president.
He could, however, still run as a third-party candidate or an independent — which would mean a defeat for the Republican candidate.
The charges he could face make a convoluted link to the payoff to Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
The primary accusation against Trump is that he gave a former lawyer $130,000 in 2016 during the election campaign to pay off the porn star and showed it as a lawyer’s fee which would be a violation of the law regarding business records.
Related to that is a possible violation of election laws if the payment is construed as an illegal election contribution, compounding the first accusation.
The lawyer, Michael Cohen, was convicted in a federal trial in connection with the payoff and served prison time.
If he were to be charged, it would be the ultimate test of Trump’s boast: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.:
Already many Republicans are against Trump running in 2024.
If in a travesty for the Republican Party, Trump runs for the nomination defying the indictments, he could cast himself as a martyr and count on his personal supporters.
It is estimated from various polls that Trump has the hardcore personal support of about 30 per cent of the Republican Party — those standing by him despite the 2020 defeat and the 2022 reverses for his handpicked candidates, and who subscribe to his claims that he was the real winner in the election against President Joe Biden.
The participants in the January 6, 2021, protests near the Capitol, which led to a riot with some breaking away and invading the building housing Congress, are from this group.
Unless the rest of the party unifies behind a single candidate, Trump could still come ahead with the opposition votes split.
In that scenario, he would have an even tougher uphill battle than in 2020 running against the Democratic Party candidate, who most likely would be Biden.
But if he fails to get the Republican nomination, Trump could play the spoiler and bring down the party’s candidate with a third party run.
In the 1992 election that brought Bill Clinton to power, the sitting Republican President, George H.W. Bush, lost because of Ross Perot, a conservative who ran as a candidate of the Reform Party that grew out of grassroots support for him.
There is a precedent for a convict running for president from prison.
Eugene Debs, a Socialist trade union leader, ran from prison in the 1920 presidential election after being convicted of sedition for opposing compulsory military service in case of war.
He lost, but polled nearly 1 million votes.
There is, however, one constitutional bar to candidates running for office: participating in an insurrection or rebellion against the government.
That would require Trump’s conviction in connection with the Capitol riots, which some Democrats want to see.
But that is a very remote possibility.