Donald Trump poses for a photograph.
Donald Trump is the first former president in US history to face criminal charges after the Manhattan grand jury investigating his role in a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels voted to indict him.
Multiple reports suggest that Mr Trump is facing more than 30 charges, though no specific charges are yet known.
News of the indictment came after reports that security measures were being put back in place around the courthouse in Lower Manhattan and that the grand jury had been looking into a payment to another woman.
It was thought that any indictment would be delayed for weeks due to a planned hiatus, with the timing of the indictment reportedly catching the former president off guard.
The indictment comes as the former president continues to campaign for the presidency, striking out at his rival Ron DeSantis, accusing the Florida governor of inexperience in foreign policy and bailing out insurers to the detriment of hurricane-hit Floridians. Mr DeSantis said Thursday night that he would not “extradite” Mr Trump, though he has no legal basis to do so.
The possible spectacle of Trump's appearance in Manhattan before a judge as the first sitting or former President to face criminal charges, with international media camped outside, could further divide the world's most powerful country.
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The specific charges against Trump are not yet known as the indictment remains under seal, but CNN on Thursday reported Trump faced more than 30 counts related to business fraud.
Trump, 76, said he was "completely innocent" and accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the Democrat who led the investigation, of trying to hurt his electoral chances.
"This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history," Trump said in a statement.
Shortly after, Trump appealed to supporters to provide money for a legal defense.
He has raised over $2 million since March 18, according to his campaign, and called for people to protest.
A small number of supporters rallied at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in Florida on Thursday, waving flags along the highway, while a critic of the former president held a sign near the New York DA's office reading: "Lock him up and throw away the key".
Authorities bolstered security around the Manhattan courthouse after Trump earlier this month called for nationwide protests, recalling his charged rhetoric ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.
Neither the White House nor President Joe Biden, a Democrat who is widely expected to seek re-election in a possible rematch against Trump, commented on Thursday.
But the party's top senator, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, called for matters to play out calmly.
"I encourage both Mr. Trump’s critics and supporters to let the process proceed peacefully and according to the law," he said.
The Manhattan investigation is just one of several legal challenges concerning Trump.
Trump also faces a separate criminal probe into whether he unlawfully tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia, and two investigations by a special counsel including over his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
The Manhattan charges will likely be unsealed by a judge in the coming days and Trump will have to travel there to be fingerprinted and photographed, known as a surrender date, which a court official said was expected on Tuesday.
He will then appear before a judge and be formally charged.
Thursday's indictment from the grand jury came after months of hearing evidence about an alleged $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 campaign.
But any potential trial is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign.
Trump's lawyers Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina said they will "vigorously fight" the charges.
Trump received support from a number of potential challengers for the Republican nomination including Florida Governor Ron Desantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
"This will only further serve to divide our country," Pence said.
Trump could use the case to stoke anger among his core supporters, though other Republican voters might tire of the drama.
Some 44% of Republicans said he should drop out of the race if he is indicted, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.
How much the case affects the election could have profound implications beyond US borders.
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