NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump claimed he is “completely innocent” and a victim of “political persecution” Thursday after becoming the first former president in U.S. history to face a criminal indictment.
The ex-president, who’s holed up at his club in Mar-a-Lago, Fla., made the assertions in a lengthy statement issued minutes after news broke that a Manhattan grand jury investigating his hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels had voted to indict him on criminal charges.
“The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable — indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference,” said Trump, who’s running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
“Never before in our Nation’s history has this been done,” he continued. “The Democrats have cheated countless times over the decades, including spying on my campaign, but weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent, who just so happens to be a President of the United States and by far the leading Republican candidate for President, has never happened before. Ever.”
The exact nature of the charges against Trump was not immediately known as they remained under seal Thursday evening.
The grand jury, which was convened by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, has been investigating a $130,000 payment Trump issued to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election in exchange for her silence about an extramarital affair they allegedly had a decade earlier.
In his statement, the Queens-born former president called Bragg “a disgrace.”
“Rather than stopping the unprecedented crime wave taking over New York City, he’s doing Joe Biden’s dirty work, ignoring the murders and burglaries and assaults he should be focused on,” Trump raged, contradicting NYPD data showing that those crime categories have trended downward in recent months. “This is how Bragg spends his time!”
Trump is expected to be arraigned on the charges in Manhattan Criminal Court. The timing of the arraignment was not immediately clear, but the former president’s legal team said it’s likely to take place early next week.
Security preparations are already underway in New York City, according to mayoral spokesman Fabien Levy.
Starting Friday, cops not typically in uniform will be in uniform in case they are needed for protests, according to police sources.
“The NYPD continues to monitor all activity and there are no credible threats to the city at this time,” Levy said. “The NYPD always remains prepared to respond to events happening on the ground and keep New Yorkers safe.”
The city has been on edge since word of a possible indictment surfaced earlier this month. Earlier this week, a Trump supporter was arrested for threatening a mother and her two children during a heated argument outside Manhattan Criminal Court.
Michael Cohen, who went from being Trump’s loyal fixer to testifying before Bragg’s grand jury multiple times, said after the indictment that he takes “no pride” in paving the way for his former boss’ prosecution.
“However, I do take solace in validating the adage that no one is above the law; not even a former president,” he said in a text message.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a progressive Democrat representing parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, took sharper aim at Trump following the indictment and listed off some of the other legal perils facing the former commander-in-chief.
“Being indicted for falsifying business records with hush money is only the beginning of being held accountable for his crimes,” Bowman said in a statement.
“Trump attempted to illegally overturn election results in Georgia and worked to incite the insurrection at the Capitol, both in an effort to overthrow our government to advance his fascist cause … Republicans will continue to claim this was a political arrest, but they can’t continue to hide behind their lies.”
Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill rushed to his defense after the indictment.
“The unprecedented election interference from corrupt Socialist District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a political witch-hunt and a dark day for America,” said upstate New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 Republican in the House.
“The radical Far Left will stop at nothing to persecute Joe Biden’s chief political opponent ahead of the 2024 presidential election to suppress the will and voice of the American people,” she added.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat representing Brooklyn and Queens, struck a somber tone.
“The former president, because of his illegal behavior and actions, got indicted,” she told the Daily News. “What can I say? It’s a really sad day for this country.”
(New York Daily News writer Rocco Parascandola contributed to this story.)