You might be wondering if ‘hush money’ is actually illegal, as former president Donald Trump claims he expects to be arrested in connection to such a scheme.
On Saturday, March 18, Donald Trump shared the news he is anticipating his imminent arrest. He did not explain how he had been informed of an alleged pending arrest, and provided no evidence of how it is planned to be taking place.
“Leading Republican candidate and former President of the United States will be arrested on Tuesday of next week,” Trump wrote in a post to his social media platform, Truth Social.
In this post, Trump did not address why he is expecting to be arrested, however it has been allegedly connected to New York prosecutors’ probe into the former president’s role in a reported hush money scheme. But is hush money illegal and could it really get Trump indicted? We’ve done some digging into the law surrounding such schemes.
Is hush money illegal?
No, hush money schemes are not illegal. Despite talk of Donald Trump’s potential arrest in connection to a hush money scheme, the act itself is not illegal, nor a felony. It may be deemed a shady act, but is common between organizations and individuals when not-so-friendly-PR occurrences come to light.
So, knowing that hush money is not illegal, you might wonder what charges Trump is allegedly facing. The former US president, who served from 2017-2021, is potentially facing charges of falsifying business records of the Trump Organization. This is a misdemeanor in New York.
The alleged falsifying of business records hinges on a payment made by the Trump Organization to Trump’s then-personal attorney, Michael Cohen. Cohen had made a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels in late October 2016, right before the presidential election. Daniels and Trump allegedly had an affair a decade prior, which Trump continues to deny. The Trump Organization dubbed the reimbursements as a legal expense in its books. Trump previously denied knowledge of such a payment.
After a probe into this hush money scheme, Cohen was arrested. Cohen then admitted the payments were made to protect Trump into the run-up to the election. He was charged with violating the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). This act makes it illegal to make an unreported donation of more than $2,700 to a candidate in a general election.
Michael Cohen was tried and sentenced in a criminal case, not a civil, as he admitted to violating campaign finance laws “knowingly and willfully.” He also pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to three years in prison.
How Trump’s alleged involvement could land him in jail
New York prosecutors are currently weighing up whether to charge Donald Trump with falsifying the business records of the Trump Organization. This would be classified as a misdemeanor, not a felony.
But there is another more significant charge relating to falsifying records which is being investigated. If proven in court that Trump falsified business records in the first degree with the intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal another crime, in this instance a violation of strict campaign finance laws, Trump faces a Class E felony. This carries a minimum of one year and as much as four years in prison. This charge hinges on whether such action was taken “knowingly and willfully,” as in Cohen’s case. Prosecutors would need to prove Trump’s intent to carry out this crime.
After Trump’s Truth Social post was published, a spokesperson from the Republican candidate’s team said they had not received any updates from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which leads the investigation. The Manhattan DA office also declined to comment on the matter, following the Truth Social post. There has been no confirmation charges are pending against the former president, with Trump’s rep also stating he wasn’t tipped off by law enforcement but through media reports about his alleged upcoming arrest.
How the hush money investigation is unfolding
New York prosecutors are given the impression that their probe into the hush money scheme is nearing its end. Prosecutors in Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s office recently asked Donald Trump to appear before the grand jury investigating the case. In New York, potential defendants are required to be notified and invited to appear before a grand jury before the charges are weighed up.
It is likely we won’t have a verdict until the end of the month or through the end of spring. Another witness is expected to testify on Monday, March 20 before the grand jury. But it is not yet clear whether this would be the final witness before the verdict.
An indictment against Donald Trump would make him the first former US president and current presidential candidate to be criminally charged. There is no indication on whether this affects his current presidential campaign. Trump has run for president three times.
The former president continues to be investigated for a number of charges from fraud and falsifying records to the Mar-O-Lago documents.
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