New York – The drama surrounding Donald Trump’s possible indictment over hush money paid to a porn star took a new twist on Wednesday, after a New York grand jury failed to convene as expected – pushing back a decision, potentially into next week.
Speculation that a historic indictment of a former president may be imminent has been building ever since Trump himself announced he was expecting to be arrested.
But Wednesday’s grand jury session was called off, unnamed law enforcement officials told multiple US outlets, without giving a reason. The New York Times reported that such interruptions are not unusual.
With barricades outside Trump Tower and police on high alert, New York has been holding its breath over an expected indictment for days – with tension peaking on Tuesday, the day Trump said he would be arrested. He wasn’t.
The jury panel usually meets on Thursdays too but Insider, which broke the news of the cancelled meeting, quoted one source as saying it may not gather again this week, meaning the earliest a decision might come is on Monday.
The 76-year-old Republican would become the first former or sitting president to ever be charged with a crime if the panel eventually votes to indict.
The unprecedented move would send shock waves through the 2024 election campaign, in which Trump is running to regain office.
It would also raise the prospect of a former leader of the free world being arrested, booked, fingerprinted and possibly handcuffed.
The Times has reported that Trump favours the idea of being paraded in front of cameras by law enforcement, in what is known as a perp walk.
Prosecutor Alvin Bragg likely wants to avoid any spectacle that could rile up Trump’s base.
Bragg formed the grand jury– a citizens’ panel tasked with deciding whether there is a case to answer – in January following his investigation into $130 000 paid to Stormy Daniels in 2016.
Grand juries operate behind closed doors to prevent perjury or witness tampering before trials, making it virtually impossible to follow their proceedings.
A spokesperson for Bragg told AFP that she couldn’t comment “on grand jury matters”.
Even once the panel takes a decision, it is unclear when Bragg would announce any charges.
Legal experts have suggested it could take some time before Trump, who currently at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, is arraigned before a Manhattan Criminal Court judge.
The payment to Daniels was made weeks before the 2016 election, allegedly to stop her from going public about a liaison she says she had with Trump years earlier.
Trump denies the affair and has called the inquiry a “witch hunt.”
His ex-lawyer-turned-adversary Michael Cohen, who has testified before the grand jury, says he made the payment on his boss’s behalf and was later reimbursed.
If not properly accounted for, the payment could result in a misdemeanour charge for falsifying business records, experts say.
That might be raised to a felony if the false accounting was intended to cover up a second crime, such as a campaign finance violation, which is punishable by up to four years behind bars.
Analysts say that argument is untested and would be difficult to prove in court. Any jail time is far from certain.
An indictment would begin a lengthy process that could last several months, if not more. The case would face a mountain of legal issues as it moves toward jury selection and pose a security headache for Secret Service agents who protect Trump.
Trump calls for protests
Trump has called for demonstrations if he is charged, fuelling fears of unrest similar to the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol, but so far protests have been small and muted.
New York police have erected barricades outside the courthouse and Trump Tower.
Trump is facing several criminal investigations at the state and federal level over possible wrongdoing that threaten his new run at the White House, many more serious than the Manhattan case.
They include his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state of Georgia, his handling of classified documents, and his possible involvement in the January 6 rioting.
Some observers believe an indictment bodes ill for Trump’s 2024 chances, while others say it could boost his support.