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Trump's historic indictment comes during his presidential primary run


A New York grand jury has voted to indict former President Donald Trump for his alleged role in hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, said in a statement that the office, quote, "contacted Mr. Trump's attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan DA's office." The charges remain under seal but will likely be made public in the coming days.

Let's turn now to the politics of this indictment. Joining us is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Good to be with you.

FLORIDO: Trump has announced his run for president, Domenico. He is already campaigning. So how might this news affect his presidential bid?

MONTANARO: Well, he's obviously going to try to use it and fire up his base even more than he already has. I mean, he's already doing that. In a statement this evening, he attacked the prosecutor, the New York district attorney - Alvin Bragg, a Democrat - called the indictment political persecution, blatant election interference and a witch hunt that will backfire on Democrats. You know, Trump clearly also has the backing of Republicans on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for example, tonight called the indictment an unprecedented abuse of power. And House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan put out a one-word statement. All it said - outrageous. So there you go.

All this plays into Trump's air of grievance, really, that he's used to propel his political fortunes - you know, that the left is out for him; that, in turn, also his supporters, they're out to get; that the system is rigged; and that this indictment and investigation in New York, nothing more than a politically motivated attempt to derail his presidential campaign.

FLORIDO: Is there any evidence that this would help or hurt him politically?

MONTANARO: You know, you'd think that an indictment would hurt someone running for office, but Trump seems to have insulated himself with his base, you know, convincing them that these are trumped up charges. Our poll, the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, this week showed that a majority - 57% - said the criminal investigations into him are fair. But - and remember, this is what's important here when it comes to a presidential primary - 8 in 10 Republicans agree that Trump - agree with Trump and call the investigations a witch hunt. You know, a Quinnipiac poll out yesterday found that a majority of people say criminal charges should disqualify Trump from running for president. But three-quarters of Republicans don't agree with that.

And to Trump's messaging, two-thirds of people overall think that the charges in New York are not that serious, and 6 in 10 say the investigation is politically motivated. Of course, this decision, though, is from a grand jury, not exactly something done by fiat, by a prosecutor or a judge. And remember, a grand jury hears evidence from a prosecutor, then decides whether there's enough there to file criminal charges against a suspect. And, you know, if it's a conspiracy, you know, a jury of his peers appears to be in on it.

FLORIDO: These charges are unprecedented, but is there any moment in political history that we can compare this indictment news to?

MONTANARO: Not really. I mean, Richard Nixon, former president, never faced charges because Gerald Ford controversially pardoned him. I mean, you have to go all the way back to 1872 to find a president who was even arrested. You know, President Ulysses S. Grant was speeding - arrested for speeding with his horse-drawn carriage in D.C. But, you know, let's not overlook the fact that Trump is now the first former American president to face criminal charges.

So that's a pretty big wild card, especially when, according to our poll, a significant number of people ranked preserving democracy as high on their list of most important issues facing the country. And that's true of persuadable voters. Independents, for example, ranked preserving democracy second behind the economy. Trump's brand, we know, has been toxic in competitive states in the last few elections, and he's at risk with independents. Majorities don't have a favorable opinion of him and that they believe that he should not be president.

FLORIDO: Domenico, a big question here seems to be whether this will make a dent in the support that Trump enjoys among Republicans.

MONTANARO: Very tough to say because 80% of them say they have a favorable opinion of Trump. Three-quarters say they want him to be president, and there are not any Republicans who are really making a sustained effort against him.

FLORIDO: Of course, this is a developing story. We're looking forward to hearing more from you over the next few days, Domenico. Thanks, Domenico Montanaro.

FLORIDO: Thanks for having me.

FLORIDO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.