In the years since news broke of Donald Trump allegedly directing a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, his lawyer went to jail for his role, Trump lost the 2020 election and entered the race for 2024, and a new Manhattan district attorney picked up the Daniels case.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg’s spokesperson said in a written statement the night of March 30, “This evening, we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal. Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”
Earlier in the day, citing Joe Tacopina, one of Trump’s lawyers, The Associated Press reported March 30 that a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump. CBS News also reported that Trump’s attorney Susan Necheles confirmed the indictment.
Bragg’s office had been investigating the alleged concealment of a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels by Michael Cohen, Trump’s then-lawyer, shortly before the 2016 presidential election. The New York Times reported that the indictment is under seal. This becomes the first-ever criminal case against a former U.S. president.
Cohen, who pleaded guilty to multiple counts including tax evasion and campaign finance violations, said Trump directed him to pay hush money in the run-up to the 2016 election in exchange for two women’s silence about alleged affairs. The women are Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both claim to have had a sexual relationship with Trump in the mid 2000s while he was married to his wife, Melania.
Trump has consistently denied the affair but changed his story around the payment. He initially denied the payment — as did Daniels and Cohen — but acknowledged it as legal proceedings against Cohen advanced. Trump’s argument is that the payment was not from campaign funds. Prosecutors may be examining whether Trump falsified business records to make the payment.
The Stormy Daniels investigation is one of multiple investigations about Trump. He is under investigation by Fulton County, Georgia, prosecutors for his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election results and by federal prosecutors for his statements and actions leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump is also under investigation for removing documents from the White House when he left the presidency.
Here is a timeline of statements by Trump and his spokespersons or lawyers about the Stormy Daniels case.
Nov. 4, 2016: Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks denies affair.
Hicks told The Wall Street Journal it was “absolutely, unequivocally” false that Trump and Daniels had had a relationship.
Jan. 12, 2018: White House, Michael Cohen deny affair
The Wall Street Journal revealed that Cohen arranged for Daniels to receive $130,000 in exchange for her silence.
That same day, Cohen issued a statement on Trump’s behalf denying the affair. The statement did not address the payment, however.
“President Trump once again vehemently denies any such occurrence as has Ms. Daniels. This is now the second time that you are raising outlandish allegations against my client,” Cohen told the Journal. “You have attempted to perpetuate this false narrative for over a year; a narrative that has been consistently denied by all parties since at least 2011.”
Separately, Cohen provided a two-paragraph statement — addressed to “TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN” and ostensibly signed by Daniels — denying the affair.
“Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false,” the statement said.
Daniels has also contradicted herself about whether an affair occurred. However, she has recanted statements she’d made denying the affair, claiming she signed a denial only because Cohen “made it sound like I had no choice.”
Feb. 13, 2018: Cohen says he paid Daniels out of his own pocket
Cohen claimed he personally paid $130,000 to Daniels, and that he received no reimbursement from the Trump Organization or Trump campaign. He did not say whether Trump personally reimbursed him.
“Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly,” Cohen said in a statement to The New York Times. “The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.”
Cohen told The New York Times he made a similar statement to the Federal Election Commission after a government watchdog filed a complaint alleging the payment was an in-kind contribution to Trump’s presidential campaign that violated campaign finance laws.
He would later say the funds were transferred from a home-equity line of credit to an account for a personal corporation he used to make the payment to Daniels.
April 5, 2018: Trump denies that he knew of payment
During a press gaggle aboard Air Force One, Trump claimed he had no knowledge of the payment to Daniels. He also stated he did not know Cohen’s funding source. Here’s the exchange:
Reporter: “Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?”
Trump: “No. No. What else?”
Reporter: “Then why did Michael Cohen make those if there was no truth to her allegations?”
Trump: “Well, you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.”
Reporter: “Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?”
Trump: “No, I don’t know. No.”
April 9, 2018: FBI raids Cohen’s properties, seizes documents
The FBI raids Cohen’s Manhattan office, home and hotel room as part of an investigation into possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations. Agents seized business records, emails and tax documents.
May 2, 2018: Giuliani reveals Trump reimbursed Cohen
In the interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Rudolph Giuliani, who has also served as Trump’s lawyer, said Trump had, in fact, repaid Cohen to silence Daniels.
Giuliani: “Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money, sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. So —”
Hannity: “They funneled it through a law firm.”
Giuliani: “Funneled it through a law firm, and the president repaid it.”
Hannity: “I didn’t know he did?”
Giuliani later suggested Trump reimbursed Cohen through installments paid to the attorney’s legal retainer.
“When I heard Cohen’s retainer of $35,000, when he was doing no work for the president, I said that’s how he’s repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael,” Giuliani said.
May 2-3, 2018: Giuliani and Trump elaborate on payment plan
In an interview with The New York Times shortly after his “Hannity” appearance, Giuliani elaborated on the payment plan. He said he has documents showing Trump personally repaid Cohen, which he claimed proves there was no campaign finance violation.
“Some time after the campaign is over, they set up a reimbursement, $35,000 a month, out of his personal family account,” Giuliani said, adding that Trump paid Cohen some $470,000 through the payments, which included “incidental expenses.”
The following day, Trump issued a series of tweets acknowledging the arrangement with Cohen and again denying the affair:
“Mr. Cohen, an attorney, 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, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA. These agreements are very common among celebrities and people of wealth. In this case it is in full force and effect and will be used in Arbitration for damages against Ms. Clifford (Daniels). The agreement was used to stop the false and extortionist accusations made by her about an affair, despite already having signed a detailed letter admitting that there was no affair. Prior to its violation by Ms. Clifford and her attorney, this was a private agreement. Money from the campaign, or campaign contributions, played no roll in this transaction.”
May 4, 2018: Giuliani tries to clean up his earlier remarks
In a statement, Giuliani sought to clarify his previous remarks, saying the payments were unrelated to Trump’s candidacy:
“There is no campaign violation. The payment was made to resolve a personal and false allegation in order to protect the President’s family,” Giuliani said. “It would have been done in any event, whether he was a candidate or not.”
July 24, 2018: Recording published of Trump and Cohen apparently discussing hush money payments
Lanny Davis, Cohen’s attorney, released an audiotape of Cohen and Trump apparently discussing a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Like Daniels, McDougal claims to have had a sexual relationship with Trump in the mid 2000s. The conversation Cohen secretly recorded is said to have taken place two months before the election.
Aug. 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty, implicating Trump
Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to violating campaign finance laws, thereby implicating Trump. Court filings described Cohen, acting on Trump’s behalf, arranging to purchase exclusive rights to the stories concerning Trump’s alleged infidelities to prevent their publication, a tactic known as “catch and kill.” Cohen’s lawyer said this was done “for the principal purpose of influencing an election.”
Aug. 22, 2018: Trump speaks about payments after Cohen’s guilty plea
Trump tells Fox News the payments did not constitute a campaign finance violation because the payments “came from me,” and “didn’t come out of the campaign.”
Oct. 15, 2018: Trump tweets about Daniels’ lawsuit being tossed out.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles threw out Daniels’ defamation lawsuit she filed after Trump tweeted about her account of threats she said she received in 2011. After Trump was elected president, Daniels worked with an artist to render a sketch of the person who had allegedly threatened her about her plans to go public with the alleged affair.
Trump tweeted April 18, 2018: “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!” Otero ruled that the “First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.”
Daniels lost her appeal in 2022.
Dec. 3, 2018: Trump tweets about Cohen’s sentence
After Cohen’s lawyers asked a judge to spare him jail time, Trump responded to Cohen on Twitter, saying Cohen “lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.” Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison that month; he spent slightly more than a year in prison and the remainder in home confinement. Cohen ended his sentence in November 2021.
Dec. 13, 2018: Trump distances himself from Cohen after sentencing
Trump tweets: “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made. That is why they get paid.”
Dec. 16, 2018, through Sept. 2, 2020: Trump repeatedly attacks Cohen
In multiple tweets or retweets, Trump attacks Cohen, calling him a “rat” and portraying Cohen as a liar.
January to April 2022: Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, continues investigations into Trump
Bragg was sworn in as the new Manhattan District Attorney in January 2022. The next month, Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz, two prosecutors who were heading the investigation into Trump’s business dealings, resigned.
Days later, Bragg’s office announced that a new prosecutor had been assigned to lead the case.
But news reports raised questions about if Bragg was seriously pursuing Trump. In March 2022, The New York Times published Pomerantz’s resignation letter, in which he told Bragg that he disagreed with his decision not to prosecute Trump and take the case to a grand jury. Pomerantz wrote, “I believe that Donald Trump is guilty of numerous felony violations.”
Bragg said in an April 7, 2022, statement that the investigation against Trump was continuing.
Jan. 30, 2023: Trump calls the Daniels case a witch hunt
In late January, prosecutors began presenting their case to the grand jury.
Trump denies he had an affair and calls the probe the “greatest witch hunt of all time” on Truth Social. He said he won “big money” against Daniels, a reference to her being ordered to pay legal fees after losing her defamation case.
“With murders and violent crime surging like never before in New York City, the Radical Left Manhattan D.A., Alvin Bragg, just leaked to the Fake News Media that they are still going after the Stormy “Horseface” Daniels Bull….!”
Jan. 31 2023: Trump dismisses the matter as outdated
Trump continues to object to the case on Truth Social, saying it is “very old” and happened “long past the very publicly known & accepted deadline of the Statute of Limitations.” This will likely be a part of Trump’s defense if he is indicted. The Associated Press reported that New York’s statute of limitations for most felonies is five years, but the clock can stop when the defendant is continuously out of state.
Feb. 1, 2023: Trump notes the FEC dropped their inquiry
Trump railed against the investigation by mentioning how other investigations into the matter had fallen short. He said the Federal Election Commission dropped its probe because it “found no evidence of problems.”
The commission dropped its inquiry in 2021 into the complaints amid a partisan split among commissioners about whether to proceed, with two Democratic commissioners wanting to proceed and two Republicans wanting to dismiss the case. One commissioner was absent for the vote and one commissioner recused himself.
March 2023: Trump attacks Bragg and the ‘witch hunt,’ again denies affair
Trump intensified his attacks on Bragg and other continuing investigations on Truth Social starting March 3.
On March 9, he wrote he did “absolutely nothing wrong, I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I have wanted to have an affair with Stormy Daniels.”
On March 13, Trump grouped the Daniels payment probe into one of “four radical left investigations” launched against him since leaving office: “Whether it’s the MAR-a-LAGO RAID, the UNSELECT COMMITTEE HOAX, the PERFECT GEORGIA PHONE CALL, or the STORMY “HORSEFACE” DANIALS EXTORTION PLOT, ALL SICK, FAKE NEWS!”
March 18, 2023: Trump says he will be arrested
Trump said on Truth Social that he “WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
Although news reports signaled an indictment was likely imminent, prosecutors did not confirm an arrest date.
March 30, 2023: Grand jury indicts Trump
Citing Joe Tacopina, one of Trump’s lawyers, The Associated Press reported that a Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump. The New York Times said the felony indictment was under seal. Trump issued a statement that said, “This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”
Staff Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.