Former President Trump speaks during an "America First Education Policy" event in Davenport, Iowa on March 13, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alarcon Avila/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Donald Trump could soon become the first sitting or former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges amid new momentum in a Manhattan district attorney's probe into a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels.
Driving the news: Trump's comments on Truth Social Saturday — that he believes he will be arrested on Tuesday — are the latest in a saga that has plagued him since Daniels publicly alleged the two had an affair. Trump has denied the claim but has changed his story regarding the payment as events played out.
How it starts
2006: Daniels met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe in Nevada, she said in a 2018 interview with "60 Minutes". The two had sex in his hotel suite after he invited her to dinner, she alleged.
Michael Cohen negotiates for silence
2016: Actress Karen McDougal's attorney Keith M. Davidson approaches the National Enquire about selling her story of an affair she had with Trump in 2006 and 2007, according to documents later filed by the Federal Election Commission.
- The National Enquirer secures the rights to her story for $150,000 but never publishes it — a tactic used to quash her claims to prevent its influence in the election, which its parent company American Media, Inc. (AMI) admits to in a 2018 non-prosecution agreement.
- Cohen — Trump's former lawyer — links up with David Pecker, chair and CEO of AMI, to discuss possibly buying the non-disclosure portion of McDougal's agreement with AMI for $125,000.
- Davidson, who now also represents Daniels, tells the National Enquirer she is willing to share details about her alleged affair on the record. The Enquirer notifies Cohen, who agrees to pay Daniels $130,000 in exchange for the rights to her story and a non-disclosure agreement.
Cohen seeks reimbursement
January 2017: As Trump is preparing to take office, Cohen requests reimbursement from the Trump Organization for the payment to Daniels — which the company's executives grant in double, per federal prosecutors who later oversee Cohen's case.
January 2018: The Wall Street Journal publishes details of the payment to Daniels — the first public account of the deal. Cohen does not address the payment itself but tells the Journal in a statement that Trump "vehemently denies" allegations of an affair.
February 2018: Cohen releases a statement saying he did make the payment to Daniels but was not reimbursed for it and that the Trump campaign was not in the loop. "The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone," he said.
Daniels sues Trump
March 2018: Daniels sues Trump in federal court to invalidate the non-disclosure agreement, arguing that Trump never signed it.
- In the lawsuit, which includes a copy of the deal, she says Cohen paid her $130,000 for her silence and accuses him of using "intimidation and coercive tactics" to get her to publicly deny the affair after the Journal's report.
- A set of emails released by Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti shows that Cohen used his Trump Organization email account to facilitate the wire transfer for the deal.
April 2018: Trump makes his first public comments, saying he was unaware of the payment to Daniels.
May 2018: Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani says Trump did in fact reimburse Cohen and knew about the "general arrangement."
- Trump attempts to do damage control the next day, tweeting that Cohen received a "monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties."
Cohen pleads guilty to federal charges
August 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to eight charges of tax evasion, fraud and campaign finance violations in connection to his payments to Daniels and McDougal, which the Department of Justice called an attempt "to influence the 2016 presidential election."
- During his guilty plea, Cohen says in federal court he was directed to violate campaign law at the direction of an unnamed candidate. That same candidate directed him to pay $130,000 in hush money, which the candidate later reimbursed.
- He is sentenced to three years in prison.
July 2019: The federal investigation into the payments concludes, with Trump's team claiming victory over what he continues to call an extortion scheme.
Manhattan DA subpoenas Trump Organization
August 2019: The Manhattan district attorney's office subpoenas the Trump Organization for records related to the payments.
September 2019: The district attorney's office issues another subpoena for Trump's tax returns dating back to 2011. Trump sues to block the subpoena and appeals the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, which in February 2021 finds that Trump is not shielded from the subpoena.
- Over the next few years, several charges are brought against Trump Organization and its top executives for tax-related fraud.
March 2023: Trump is invited to testify before a New York grand jury investigating the hush money payments. Trump's representatives call the "threat" of indictment "insane."
- Cohen in the meantime makes an appearance before the grand jury. His lawyer says he has already done 20 interviews with the district attorney's office.
- Daniels also meets with prosecutors involved in the probe.
- Trump claims an imminent arrest and calls on his supporters to "take our nation back."
Go deeper: Looming Trump charges threaten to inject chaos into 2024 campaign
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