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Updates: President Trump indicted in Manhattan in porn star case

A grand jury voted to indict Trump on Thursday.
 
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. A lawyer for Donald Trump said Thursday, March 30, that he's been told that the former president has been indicted in New York on charges involving payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. A lawyer for Donald Trump said Thursday, March 30, that he's been told that the former president has been indicted in New York on charges involving payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) [ ALEX BRANDON | AP ]
Published March 30, 2023|Updated March 31, 2023

Our live updates have concluded for the night. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest developments as they become available over the coming days.

For the first time in history, a former U.S. president has been indicted.

A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict former President Donald Trump on Thursday in a case involving his payment of hush money to a porn star, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Related: Q&A: Can Trump run for president if indicted? What happens if he's arrested?

The vote marks a turning point into the yearslong investigation over whether a $130,000 check Trump paid to his former attorney Michael Cohen — money the porn star, Stormy Daniels, and Cohen have said was designed to silence Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign — was improperly classified as a legal expense, rather than a campaign expense.

Trump has been harshly critical of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who’s overseeing the case. On Thursday, he called the indictment “political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.”

This is a rapidly unfolding story, both in New York and in Florida. We’ll be here in the coming days, with reporters gathering reaction from local, state and U.S. officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Related: DeSantis slams New York DA's Trump investigation, swipes at Trump himself

8:26: For now, Republicans in Florida are focused on defending Trump and lashing out at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

“Indicting a former U.S. president by a state attorney is very alarming and magnifies the corrupt nature of the far left Soros agenda,” said Miami state Sen. Ileana Garcia, the co-founder of Latinas for Trump.

Christian Ziegler, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said the indictment is the result of how “the radical left has slowly and meticulously infiltrated key American institutions.”

“Today, we saw the results of their infiltration by a Soros-funded prosecutor weaponizing the justice system to indict a political opponent of the left and our former Republican president, @realDonaldTrump,” Ziegler posted on Twitter.

“The Manhattan DA has been desperate to charge President Trump with any crime from the start. The politicization of our criminal justice system is not acceptable,” Republican Party of Florida Vice Chairman Evan Powers said.

Ana Ceballos, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

7:53: Trying to remember who’s who in this long-running case? Here are some of the key figures.

7:47: What will it look like when Trump gets arraigned? Pretty much exactly like other indictments, the Associated Press reports.

For any New York defendant, poor or powerful, answering criminal charges means being fingerprinted and photographed, fielding basic questions such as name and birthdate, and getting arraigned. All told, defendants are typically detained for at least several hours.

There can be differences in where the different steps happen, how long they take, whether handcuffs come out and other particulars. A lot depends on the severity of the case and whether defendants arrange to turn themselves in.

But there is no playbook for booking an ex-president with U.S. Secret Service protection. Agents are tasked with the protection of former presidents unless and until they say they don’t need it. Trump has kept his detail, so agents would need to be by his side at all times.

7:32: Trump attorney Joe Tacopina told NBC News that the president will surrender in New York early next week.

7:30: In a statement, Bragg said he’s coordinating with Trump’s attorneys on the former president’s surrender.

“This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal. Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”

7:22: State Sen. Joe Gruters, who represents the Southwest Florida district that includes Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, tweeted his opposition to the looming indictment.

“This is a Witch-Hunt, this is election interference and this is unprecedented,” he wrote. “Radical Left Democrats and the New York District Attorney’s office are politicizing our justice system to influence the 2024 Presidential race and is leading a blatant and unconstitutional attempt to interfere with a Federal election by attempting to prosecute President Trump.”

7:09: DeSantis has issued the following statement about Trump’s indictment:

“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head.

“It is un-American.

“The Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney has consistently bent the law to downgrade felonies and to excuse criminal misconduct. Yet, now he is stretching the law to target a political opponent.

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

6:55: One way in which Trump’s indictment directly benefits DeSantis: It sucks up all the negative attention DeSantis had been getting all day after it was revealed the board that governs Walt Disney World’s development services transferred away most of its power before it officially stepped aside in favor of the governor’s handpicked replacements.

Prior to the state taking over the board, the Walt Disney Co. issued a host of restrictive covenants that would cut down the board’s power for decades to come, a move that was widely seen as an outmaneuvering of the state.

6:51: Trump has had DeSantis squarely in his crosshairs as a potential presidential opponent for weeks now. Earlier this week, Republican public relations consultant Alex Conant told the Tampa Bay Times that in the short term, an indictment could give Trump a boost and temporarily freeze the status of the race.

“An indictment will suck all the air out of the presidential contest and guarantee Trump will dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Trump always does well when he’s at the center of attention.”

In the long term, though, “if it reminds people of the constant chaos and drama surrounding Trump and they’re tired of it, it could benefit his challengers.”

Read more here.

6:42: Trump’s indictment in New York is far from his only legal worry at the moment. As the Associated Press notes, Trump is also facing a criminal investigation over top secret documents found at his Florida estate, a probe in Washington into his efforts to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election, and an investigation in Georgia looking into whether he and his allies illegally interfered in the state’s 2020 election. Catch up here.

6:36: President Joe Biden declined to comment on the Trump case, according to the New York Times.

6:31: Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, sent a statement out Thursday as well.

“Today’s indictment is not the end of this chapter; but rather, just the beginning. Now that the charges have been filed, it is better for the case to let the indictment speak for itself,” he said.

6:27: Donald Trump Jr. criticized DeSantis in a podcast recorded Thursday for his previous comments about the prospect of Trump Sr. being indicted.

“When Republicans like Ron DeSantis say, ‘This isn’t a real issue,’ just wait, Ron,” Trump Jr. said according to NBC News.

6:23: In a tweet, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody called Thursday a “sad day in the history of the United States.”

6:21: Trump responded to the indictment in a lengthy statement Thursday evening. Here it is in full:

“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history. From the time I came down the golden escalator at Trump Tower, and even before I was sworn in as your President of the United States, the Radical Left Democrats - the enemy of the hard-working men and women of this Country - have been engaged in a Witch-Hunt to destroy the Make America Great Again movement. You remember it just like I do: Russia, Russia, Russia; the Mueller Hoax; Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine; Impeachment Hoax 1; Impeachment Hoax 2; the illegal and unconstitutional Mar-a-Lago raid; and now this.

The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable - indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference.

Never before in our Nation’s history has this been done. The Democrats have cheated countless times over the decades, including spying on my campaign, but weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent, who just so happens to be a President of the United States and by far the leading Republican candidate for President, has never happened before. Ever.

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who was hand-picked and funded by George Soros, is a disgrace. 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. This is how Bragg spends his time!

I believe this Witch-Hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden. The American people realize exactly what the Radical Left Democrats are doing here. Everyone can see it. So our Movement, and our Party - united and strong - will first defeat Alvin Bragg, and then we will defeat Joe Biden, and we are going to throw every last one of these Crooked Democrats out of office so we can MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

6:18: U.S. Sen. Rick Scott tweeted that the attorney’s office in New York has a “vendetta” against Trump.

6:15: A super PAC supporting Trump’s 2024 campaign released the following statement:

“This is not an indictment of a crime — there was no crime — instead, this news is the indictment of a failed nation. President Trump is promising to peacefully end the war in Ukraine, dismantle the deep state, and save our country by putting America first. For that, the political elites and power brokers have weaponized government to try and stop him. They will fail. He will be re-elected in the greatest landslide in American history, and together we will all Make America Great Again,” -- Taylor Budowich, CEO of Make America Great Again Inc.

6:07: In Tallahassee, where state lawmakers are meeting for their annual legislative session, news of Trump’s indictment got a mention while senators were debating a six-week abortion ban on the Senate floor.

”Don’t worry, no one is paying attention to us. Donald Trump was indicted,” Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation said.

Senators didn’t appear to be fazed by the news.

6:00: Conservative officials and talking heads showed their support for Trump in tweets in reaction to the news.

“The only way to stop this madness from the Democrats is to elect Donald Trump,” the president’s former Director of National Intelligence tweeted.

5:53: Among the biggest unanswered questions in the Trump indictment: How will prosecutors arrange his travel to New York? The former president lives in Florida. When asked whether he would help with Trump’s extradition to New York, DeSantis said earlier this month that he had not heard of any communication between law enforcement officials in Florida and New York.

“I’ve got to spend my time on issues that actually matter to people,” he said of the case. “I can’t spend my time worrying about things of that nature. So we’re not going to be involved in it in any way.”

But DeSantis did criticize Bragg for “ignoring” other crimes and “weaponizing” his office.

“If you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago to try to use something about porn-star hush-money payments, that’s an example of pursuing a political agenda, and weaponizing the office, and I think that that’s fundamentally wrong,” DeSantis said.

Times staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this story, which used information from the Associated Press.