Trump to face criminal charges in Stormy Daniels hush money probe

  • Trump is due in court on Tuesday in Manhattan
  • He is first former US president to face criminal charges
  • Trump lawyer says he will plead not guilty

NEW YORK, March 31 (Reuters) - Donald Trump is due to be fingerprinted and photographed in a New York courthouse next week as he becomes the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges in a case involving a 2016 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Trump's expected appearance before a judge in Manhattan on Tuesday, as the Republican mounts a bid to regain the presidency, could further inflame divisions in the United States. A New York judge in a document unsealed on Friday authorized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, to disclose that Trump had been indicted, but it was not clear when the specific charges would be made public.

Trump plans to fly to New York on Monday from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and spend the night at Trump Tower before appearing in court early on Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter. Trump plans to return to Florida afterward, the source said.

Susan Necheles, a Trump attorney, told Reuters he will plead not guilty. Necheles said she did not expect the charges to be unsealed until Tuesday.

"I am not afraid of what's to come," Trump said in a fundraising email on Friday.

For nearly two weeks, Trump has been using the various legal troubles he faces to rally supporters and raise money as he seeks his party's nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden next year in a rematch of the 2020 election. His campaign said Trump raised more than $4 million in the 24 hours following the news of his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury.

The first American president to try to overthrow an election defeat, inspiring the deadly 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol, has signaled he will continue to run despite the charges.

Biden on Friday kept his thoughts on the charges against his political rival to himself, telling reporters: "I'm not going to talk about Trump's indictment."

After word surfaced on Thursday about the indictment, Trump called himself "completely innocent" and a victim of political persecution.

On Friday, Trump lashed out at Justice Juan Merchan, the judge expected to oversee the case. Trump wrote on social media that Merchan, who also presided over last year's trial in which his real estate company was convicted of tax fraud, "HATES ME" and treated the Trump Organization "VICIOUSLY." Trump was not charged in that case, which also was handled by Bragg's office.

The specific charges in the new indictment are not yet known, though CNN reported that Trump faced more than 30 counts related to business fraud and the Associated Press reported the former president faced at least one felony charge.

Another Trump lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, said Trump will not have to wear handcuffs at his court appearance and will likely be released without having to post bail.

"He's ready to fight. He's gearing up," Tacopina said in a phone interview.

Any potential trial is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign.

PARTISAN BRAWL

Trump, 76, has accused Bragg of trying to damage his electoral chances. Trump's claims have been echoed by many of his fellow Republicans and his potential rivals in the race for the party's presidential nomination.

Mike Pence, Trump's former vice president and a possible 2024 candidate, said the charges send a "terrible message" to the world about U.S. justice.

"I'm very troubled by it," Pence said at a forum in Washington.

Ahead of the indictment, the grand jury heard evidence about a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006.

"It's vindication," Daniels told the Times of London. "He's done so much worse that he should have been taken down (for) before."

Senior House of Representatives Republicans have vowed to investigate Bragg and demanded he hand over documents and other confidential material from the investigation. Bragg said Congress does not have authority to interfere with a New York legal proceeding and accused the lawmakers of escalating political tensions. Bragg's office has been the target of bomb threats in recent weeks.

"You and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump's efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges," Bragg wrote in a letter to Republican lawmakers.

Aside from this case, Trump faces two federal criminal investigations into his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and his handling of classified documents after leaving office. Trump also faces a separate Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss in that state.

Officials have stepped up security around the courthouse in New York since Trump on March 18 called on his supporters to protest any arrest. A law enforcement source said police would close streets around the courthouse ahead of Tuesday's expected appearance.

On Friday, media outlets were set up outside the courthouse but there was no sign of unrest or protests related to the case.

Trump appealed this month for nationwide protests, recalling his charged rhetoric ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol attack, and warned last week of potential "death & destruction" if he were charged.

Outside Mar-a-Lago, about a dozen people waved Trump flags and cheered as cars passed by.

Sonja Simpson, 62, said the payment to Daniels was not a public concern.

"If there were a thing, that's between him, that woman and his wife. Period. Let them work it out," Simpson said.

Merchandise vendor Ronald Solomon said sales of Trump-themed hats and t-shirts were up sharply after the charges were announced.

Some 44% of Republicans said Trump should drop out of the race if he is indicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.

The former president's personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he coordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels and to a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman, but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen.

Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign-finance violation in 2018 and served more than a year in prison. Federal prosecutors said he acted at Trump's direction.

Additional reporting by Rich McKay, Tim Reid, Alexandra Ulmer, Doina Chiacu, Kanishka Singh, Costas Pitas and Katharine Jackson; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.