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Trump indictment is just one of the legal threats he faces post-presidency

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

A New York grand jury has voted to indict former President Donald Trump. The charges are related to Trump's role in hush-money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels. The specific charges are still under seal, but this outcome has been expected for weeks and is just one of many legal threats Trump faces in his post-presidency. In a statement released this evening, Trump says he is innocent. To talk more about what this could mean legally and politically for the former president, I am joined now by Kim Wehle. She's a former U.S. attorney and a law professor at the University of Baltimore. Kim Wehle, welcome to the show.

KIM WEHLE: Thanks for having me.

FLORIDO: Are you surprised by this outcome?

WEHLE: No, I'm not, especially given that we've been sort of hand-wringing over it for many days now. And in a way, it's good to have it actually happen. And hopefully we will see, in due course, the actual terms of the indictment. Because until we see that, it's very hard to really do a fair analysis of it, I think.

FLORIDO: Yeah, I noted that we don't yet know the specific charges that he faces, but you know the legal code. What charges might the former president be facing?

WEHLE: Well, it sounds like what people are expecting is a violation of New York Penal Code, Section 175.10, which is falsifying business records in the first degree. That provision makes it illegal to falsify business records. It makes it a felony if that was done with an intent to commit another crime. And I think there's some speculation that that other crime would be Michael Cohen - his former lawyer's payoff of adult film star Ms. Daniels for keeping silent in the lead-up to the 2016 election. And then, according to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump paid him back in $35,000 installments as a legal retainer fee when there was no actual legal services provided. So the question is, why would you hide that if it didn't matter to the 2016 presidential election and how voters were going to assess the presidential candidates, which is quite serious, even if the charge itself does not seem to reach kind of the heights that some people would expect for a former president.

FLORIDO: What kind of penalties would attach to charges like this? Can you give us a sense?

WEHLE: Well, it's a Class E felony under Manhattan - New York law, so I believe it's up to four years in prison. I think it's - you know, that's way, way down the line. We have to get through many hurdles. You know, due process applies and attaches to Mr. Trump. And I think it's really important to distinguish, you know, political stakes from legal stakes, and there are a lot of procedural, evidentiary and constitutional protections in place to make sure, you know, that that far-off question is fairly adjudicated.

FLORIDO: This case is being brought by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. His predecessor looked into these alleged hush-money payments also, but did not pursue charges, which raises a question, I think, about the strength of this case. What do you think?

WEHLE: Well, I mean, he also - I think, at that point, reportedly, Cy Vance was looking into whether Donald Trump would be included in what ended up being an indictment and conviction of the Trump Organization for tax fraud and other crimes and, you know, the former CFO Allen Weisselberg's guilty plea for that. And Mr. Bragg took some heat politically for not pursuing that, so, I mean, you could argue, you know, he was less aggressive on one, more aggressive on the other. You know, Alvin Bragg was - is an elected official, and all of this really is about the voters of Manhattan who chose him and Donald Trump's - the grand jury of his peers that indicted him. And then ultimately, if it goes to trial, it will be other voters of Manhattan that will make those determinations as to whether he's guilty as charged or innocent.

FLORIDO: We've got about 20 seconds left. We don't know precisely when these charges will be formally announced, but can you walk us in about 15 seconds what happens next?

WEHLE: Well, he - I mean, he will either be arrested or would show up for an arraignment, and then he would enter a plea. You know, I worked on the Whitewater investigation many years ago. When Bill Clinton was before a grand jury, there were a lot of sort of special circumstances...

FLORIDO: Yeah.

WEHLE: ...That were given to him. And my expectation is, if Donald Trump accepts them, he will be given kind of that respect of the office that I think he would deserve, like any former president.

FLORIDO: We've been speaking with former U.S. attorney and law professor Kim Wehle about the New York grand jury's decision to indict former President Donald Trump. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.