IN a dubious distinction, Donald Trump has become the first US President, sitting or former, to face criminal charges after a Manhattan grand jury indicted him over hush money payment to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign. The specific charges against Trump have not yet been made public as the indictment is under seal as of now, even as there are reports that he faces more than 30 counts related to business fraud, including falsification of payment records. Trump, a frontrunner to be the Republican nominee in the 2024 presidential election, has pleaded innocence, terming the indictment ‘political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history.’
The development comes five years after it was reported that Trump had arranged a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to buy her silence about a sexual encounter she claimed to have had with him in 2006. The transaction, made weeks before the presidential election, was allegedly in violation of the poll campaign finance rules as it was falsely recorded under the head, ‘for legal services’. Trump has repeatedly called it a ‘simple private transaction’ and delinked it from campaign contributions.
The latest reversal has cast a cloud over Trump’s 2024 presidential prospects. He is already facing multiple investigations into allegations that he tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia; played an abettor’s role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol by his supporters; and retained classified documents even after demitting office. The 2020 electoral outcome had revealed Trump as a sore loser who had no qualms about inciting his loyalists to indulge in seditious activities. A month ago, he called for nationwide protests in anticipation of the Manhattan grand jury’s adverse decision. With the mercurial ex-President playing the victim card, it will be a challenge for the US authorities to ensure that the legal proceedings are conducted peacefully. There is a high likelihood of a violent backlash. The world will get to know soon whether the US has learnt a lesson from the Capitol mayhem, which remains a hard-to-erase blot on American democracy.
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