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Former President Donald Trump has been indicted in a hush-money case involving a sexual encounter, his lawyer says. It's the first time any ex-president has been charged in a criminal case and it comes as Trump is running again. Amna Nawaz and Geoff Bennett discussed the case with two former federal prosecutors, Renato Mariotti and Jessica Roth.
Good evening, and welcome to the "NewsHour."
We come on the air with breaking news tonight. Former President Trump has been indicted in a hush money case involving an alleged affair. A lawyer for Mr. Trump says he's been informed that a grand jury in New York returned that indictment.
It's the first time any ex-president has been charged in a criminal case. And it comes as Mr. Trump is running for president again in 2024.
We turn now to two former federal prosecutors, Renato Mariotti and Jessica Roth.
Thank you both for being with us.
And, Jessica Roth, I think it's fair to say that we were not expecting an indictment today. Of course, the grand jury conducts its work in secret. But we knew the Manhattan grand jury works on Mondays and Wednesdays, and there was reporting that the jury was planning to take off much of April for a preplanned break.
Walk us through how this jury would have arrived at an indictment today.
Jessica Roth, Former Federal Prosecutor:
Well, we don't know if they voted on it today or if they voted on it on another day and it just had remained under seal, as it still does as we sit here.
I mean, one of the extraordinary things about a grand jury is that it does its work in secrecy. And so we don't know precisely when they voted on it. Presumably, it was after they heard the last witnesses who were presented by the district attorney's office to shore up the testimony of Mr. Cohen and his credibility, presumably after the witness had been called who was requested by former President Trump to impugn his credibility.
And so, some time between when that happened and today, the grand jury indicted.
Renato Mariotti, we have to underscore the unprecedented nature of this case, the first ex-president to be charged with a crime.
What does this tell us about the case that was built by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, and the kind of evidence and witnesses that had to be presented to the grand jury?
Renato Mariotti, Former Federal Prosecutor:
Well, I will say, Alvin Bragg must know that this is going to be his legacy one way or the other.
I'm sure his office has handled many cases. And he has obviously had a lengthy career. But the bottom line is that this is a case for the history books, regardless of what the end result is. And so he and his team must feel very confident that they have the goods here.
I will say that, to an outside observer who doesn't have access to the secret grand jury material that I think your other guest wisely mentioned a moment ago, we — it certainly looks like there are serious questions about this case.
But, at this stage, I think we have to presume that prosecutors are confident in their evidence. Otherwise, they have certainly set themselves up for a difficult challenge ahead.
And, Jessica Roth, tell us more about Alvin Bragg, this prosecutor who has now apparently brought an indictment against Mr. Trump.
Well, he's a former federal prosecutor and he's also a former state prosecutor in the attorney general's office.
He has shown himself, I think, since he took office to be very careful with respect to many things, but especially with respect to a potential prosecution of former President Trump. You will recall that he took a lot of heat for not moving forward with a prior indictment or a suggested — several prosecutors who had been working under Alvin Bragg's predecessor, Cy Vance, were prepared to submit to the grand jury that related to the Trump Organization and former President Trump's inflation of assets for certain purposes and deflation of their value for other purposes.
And those two prominent prosecutors resigned when Alvin Bragg, shortly after taking office, was not prepared to move forward. So I think the history since he took office as the district attorney of Manhattan suggests that he's been quite careful and deliberate in this regard.
Renato, there is a lot we don't know. We need to point that out.
As Jessica Roth mentioned, that indictment remains under seal at this moment. But walk us through what we could expect to happen next, when we would learn more about the details of that indictment. What happens on Mr. Trump's side? Would he be expected to surrender at some point? What should we expect?
So what we would expect is that there would be a date that would be set for an initial appearance and an arraignment. That's essentially a hearing where the charges are traditionally formally read, not so much nowadays, but formally read, and the defendant is advised of his rights and the potential penalties.
And then there would also be a bond that would be set at that initial appearance and at that arraignment. So I would expect that Trump's attorneys and the prosecutors would be in contact, and there would be — when that date is set, that there would be an understanding that he would appear at that initial appearance.
I think one thing we don't know is whether that would be virtual or in person. But, obviously, there have been reports that the former president wants that to be in person. Regardless, I think, at that point, the indictment would be unsealed. We would learn what the charges are, but we would not learn all of the government's evidence.
And I think Jessica has made an excellent point. All of that's been done in secret, and we don't know all of the details about that yet.
Jessica Roth, as we wrap up our conversation, you are a student of the law. You're a student of history.
In the minute or less that we have left, characterize this historic moment for us.
Well, it is, as we all know, the first time a former president has been indicted. He's been indicted by a state prosecutor in the county where he used to live, but he has since left.
So, the narrative here is extraordinary. And I think that it's going to be probably a prelude to other indictments to come, that this, in a sense, was the first step toward a number of crimes that the former president may have committed in the nature of obstructing justice and impairing our democracy.
So I think it's the first chapter.
Jessica Roth and Renato Mariotti, our thanks to you both.
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