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President Trump indicted in hush money case

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

NPR has confirmed that former President Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges by a New York grand jury. This makes him the first former president in American history to face indictment. This case stems from payments Trump made in 2016 to his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to cover up an alleged affair with an adult film star known as Stormy Daniels. Andrea Bernstein has been covering the case for NPR and joins us now.

Andrea, tell us, what is the former president being indicted for?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Juana. So we don't know exactly, but we do know the outlines. Late in the 2016 election, the Trump campaign received word that an adult film actor, Stormy Daniels, was considering going public, claiming she'd had an affair with Donald Trump, which he denies. But this was after the "Access Hollywood" tape was released, with Trump recorded talking about sexual assault. So Michael Cohen, his lawyer at the time, became concerned the campaign couldn't take another blow and paid Daniels to keep quiet. And after that, Trump, by then in the White House, personally reimbursed Cohen, while his company logged the payments - falsely - as a legal retainer. That's the alleged crime.

SUMMERS: Now, the former president has been talking about this possibility for some time now. But Andrea, what is his official response now that the indictment has happened?

BERNSTEIN: So his lawyers say, quote, "he did not commit any crime. We will vigorously fight this political prosecution in court."

Trump's social media response is much more heated. He writes, in part, (reading) this is political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history. I believe this witch hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden. The American people realize exactly what the radical left Democrats are doing here.

Of course, I should say this is a state prosecution - not controlled by the executive branch or President Biden.

SUMMERS: Right. I know it's early still, but what can you tell us about what happens next?

BERNSTEIN: So typically, a defendant is notified and makes arrangements to surrender to authorities. We don't know when that will be. Usually it takes a number of days, but, of course, nothing is usual about this case. Procedure calls for a defendant to turn themselves in, usually early in the morning, to the Criminal Courts Building in Lower Manhattan to get fingerprinted and processed and then to walk to the courtroom, usually in handcuffs. We don't know what will happen this time. Trump will face a judge to be read the charges and plead, we presume, not guilty.

SUMMERS: I mean, we should just be clear here - this moment is historic. It's unprecedented, really. But Andrea, based on your reporting, do you have any sense so far of how you believe that a criminal trial will play out in this case?

BERNSTEIN: Right. So this is not only a former president. It's a current candidate for president. When Trump's company was charged and ultimately convicted of multiple felonies, it took about 15 months for the case to go to trial. So that would put us in the summer of 2024 - high campaign season. A trial could last weeks. Usually, defendants appear at their own trials. The whole process could take longer, and Trump's attorneys will be working vigorously to get the case dismissed. And of course, two other prosecutors are working away on Trump investigations, so this may not be his only criminal case. We haven't seen anything like this before. One thing's for sure - it will be a true test for both our democratic and our legal systems.

SUMMERS: And of course, this is a developing story. We're looking forward to hearing more from you and our other reporters and correspondents covering this over the next few days. NPR's Andrea Bernstein, thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Bernstein