Following his indictment, Trump is expected to appear in criminal court next week
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Donald Trump is expected to appear in criminal court in Manhattan next week. He is not only the first former president to face criminal charges. He, of course, is running for president in 2024. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us.
Ryan, thanks so much for being with us.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: It's going to be a real moment in history. Do we know what this arraignment will look like?
LUCAS: Well, we know that Trump is scheduled to appear in criminal court in Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon around 2 p.m. Normally, someone who's been indicted will go through the regular booking process. So fingerprints are taken. There's a mugshot. And then the person would head to court to be arraigned and enter a plea. The exact arrangements, though, are often worked out between the government and the defendant's attorneys ahead of time. That's being done now. Trump, though, of course, has the added twist of being a former president. He has a Secret Service detail. So we'll see, come Tuesday, how this all sorts out.
SIMON: Remind us of this case, if you could.
LUCAS: So this is the case that was brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. We know that the grand jury had been hearing testimony and evidence that revolves around hush-money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign. At that time, adult film star Stormy Daniels was considering going public to talk about what she says was an affair that she had with Trump several years earlier - an affair that Trump denies ever having.
Trump's attorney and fixer at that time, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet. Trump then reimbursed Cohen that money. Trump's company recorded that payment as a legal retainer, something that Cohen has said under oath was not true. And so the question this case revolves around is whether Trump falsified business records, which would be a crime in New York state.
SIMON: Do you have any indication so far how strong the government's case might be?
LUCAS: You know, we really don't. And unfortunately, that's because the indictment is still under seal, so we don't know what the actual charges are. We don't know how many counts there are in this indictment. And we don't know all of the evidence that the district attorney's office has gathered over what's been several years of investigating.
I spoke with Harry Sandick about this. He's a former federal prosecutor, now defense attorney in New York. And he said that while we don't know the charges and the full legal theory of the DA's case here, we do know that Michael Cohen appears to be an important government witness. And Sandick points out that, look, Cohen is a tricky witness. And that's because Cohen himself has pleaded guilty to federal crimes - tax evasion, false statements, campaign finance violations. And that last one involves the very payment that was made to Daniels.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
HARRY SANDICK: And so it may be a challenge for the government to show that, you know, Michael Cohen is telling the truth. And that's a factual issue apart from the legal issues.
LUCAS: Now, the pushback would be that Cohen has told the same story for years since coming out and saying that the only reason that he lied was to protect Donald Trump. But all of this is something that the government will have to deal with if Cohen is called as a witness, if and when this case ever gets to trial. And important to say here, we are still very much a long way off from that.
SIMON: Which raises the prospect that the presidential primaries could be going on when this case does come to trial.
LUCAS: Well, the fact that this is all going on with Trump being the leading Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential race is something that we have not seen before. We know that Trump's attorneys have said that Trump is innocent. They say that he's going to fight this case. Trump himself has lashed out about this prosecution on his social media platform.
Trump supporters, many House Republicans, have rallied to his cause. That's what we've seen in the wake of this indictment. Trump's presumed Republican opponents in any Republican primary have as well. What's unclear, though, is how the broader American electorate, how the public is going to view Trump as a candidate in light of this indictment as this case drags forward.
SIMON: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.
Thanks so much.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.