The Margin: Why is Trump possibly getting arrested? And who is Stormy Daniels, again?
So, what’s the story with former President Donald Trump possibly getting arrested this week over hush money payments to two women — including a porn star — who claim that he had sexual encounters with them several years ago?
It’s been more than six years since Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid off two women who alleged that they had extramarital dalliances with the former reality star-turned-president. These payments came during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal charges, including campaign finance violations, for arranging the payments. Trump has denied any wrongdoing, including having the extramarital affairs.
Well, then … case closed, right?
Apparently not. Trump has claimed that his arrest is imminent as a New York grand jury investigates these hush money payments. But it’s been a minute since 2016, and you could be forgiven for being rusty on the details, or wondering why this is coming back to bite Trump now.
So here’s a quick recap explaining why Trump could be indicted as early as this week, and what charges he could be facing.
Who is Stormy Daniels, and who paid her in 2016?
Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, is an adult film star who has alleged she had a sexual encounter with Trump during his “The Apprentice” days. Trump’s lawyer, Cohen, paid her $130,000 through a shell company to keep the alleged encounter quiet. And Cohen was reimbursed by Trump, whose Trump Organization put the payment down as a legal expense.
And this wasn’t the only such payout. Earlier in 2016, Playboy model Karen McDougal also claimed she had an affair with Trump. But Cohen arranged for McDougal to be paid $150,000 by the National Enquirer’s publisher for the rights to her story — which the tabloid then suppressed until after Trump won the 2016 election.
And Cohen pocketed $360,000 plus a $60,000 bonus, for a total of $420,000.
So, what’s legally problematic about these hush money payments?
In Cohen’s case, the Trump Organization “grossed up” Cohen’s reimbursement for the Daniels payment for “tax purposes” — according to federal prosecutors who filed criminal charges against Cohen in connection with the payments in 2018. (This means they increased the payment to Cohen to cover the taxes he would owe on it, since the payment would be characterized as income to Cohen.)
Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments. Federal prosecutors said the payments amounted to illegal, unreported assistance to Trump’s campaign — but they didn’t file charges against Trump.
But now, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s team appears to be looking at whether Trump or anyone committed crimes in arranging the payments, or in the way that they accounted for the payments internally at the Trump Organization. Legal experts have said that prosecutors could make the case that Trump falsified business records by putting Cohen’s hush money payment to Daniels down as legal fees. This would be a misdemeanor — unless prosecutors could prove that it was done to conceal another crime.
Read more: Manhattan D.A. says rhetoric won’t intimidate his office, as Trump charges loom
Cohen said that Trump told him to arrange the Daniels payment. And he also recorded a conversation between him and Trump where they spoke about arranging to pay McDougal through the National Enquirer.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. And his campaign sent out a statement on Tuesday morning stating, “Barricades are being set up around Manhattan Criminal Court — as our nation awaits an announcement on whether President Donald J. Trump will be INDICTED despite having committed NO CRIME.”
Related: DeSantis on possible Trump arrest: ‘I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star’
No former U.S. president has ever been charged with a crime.
Is Trump getting arrested?
This remains unclear. Trump claimed on Truth Social on Saturday that he “will be arrested on Tuesday of next week” — meaning March 21, which passed without the former president being indicted — citing “illegal leaks” from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. But it should be noted that there has been no public announcement of any time frame for the grand jury’s work in the case.
Also, if Trump is indicted, he would only be arrested if he refused to surrender. And his lawyers have said that he would likely agree to surrender at a New York Police Department precinct or at District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office.
For more information about Trump’s possible arrest, and what would come next:
Donald Trump may be charged with a crime. Could he still run for president?
Who is Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan D.A. who may be set to bring charges against Donald Trump?
Trump has called for protests if he’s indicted. Reaction from supporters has been muted. Here’s why.
Associated Press reporting contributed to this article.