Donald Trump is the first former US president to be charged with a crime after the Manhattan District Attorney’s office unveiled accusations against him on Tuesday regarding hush money payments to conceal stories of his alleged extramarital relationships.

A team of prosecutors led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accused Trump of fabricating 34 company records as part of a “catch-and-kill” operation to bury reports that were critical of him before the 2016 election.

Stormy Daniels, a porn star, received $130,000 from Michael Cohen, who served as Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, during the campaign in exchange for her quiet on an alleged liaison.

Trump has acknowledged paying Cohen back for his payment to Daniels, while he disputes the accusations and the relationships. In his first court appearance on Tuesday, he pleaded not guilty and referred to Bragg’s investigation as a “witch hunt” with political overtones.

According to New York law, the charges together carry a maximum punishment of 136 years in prison, although any prison term imposed after a guilty conviction would almost definitely be much lower than that. Any conviction would virtually definitely be appealed by Trump.

Making a false entry in a business’s records is against the law in the state of New York. Falsifying company records is a misdemeanour, which has a term of no more than one year in jail, but if it is done to cover up or advance other crimes, it is a felony and carries a sentence of up to four years in jail.

In this instance, according to Bragg, those other offences include suspected violations of election law.

In 2018, Cohen entered a guilty plea to federal charges related to the conspiracy that included making an excessive campaign contribution and causing an improper campaign contribution. Trump, who was referred to as “Individual-1” in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office’s charging complaint against Cohen, has not been charged with any crimes.

Trump can contend that Cohen paid Daniels—whose real name is Stephanie Clifford—on his own initiative. He can also claim that the decision to silence Daniels and McDougal was made in order to protect him and his family from the shame of the media’s focus on suspected extramarital affairs rather than to advance his campaign.

Trump has consistently referred to Cohen as a “lie,” and he may try to damage Cohen’s reputation by pointing out that he admitted to lying to Congress, despite Cohen’s testimony in 2018 that he was instructed by Trump to pay Daniels.

Trump said that the payment to Daniels “wasn’t a campaign contribution” and that “there was no violation based on what we did” in an interview with Reuters in December 2018.

In televised interviews, Trump’s attorney Joseph Tacopina has claimed that his client was the victim of Daniels’ extortion. Trump also claimed that the statute of limitations, which in New York is typically five years, had expired in a post on his Truth Social website.

If Cohen testifies at a future trial, his history of lying might be a gold mine for Trump’s attorneys during cross-examination, but Cohen has already been sentenced and is currently serving time.

That might negate any attempt by Trump to establish the typical defence used by criminal defendants against cooperating witnesses: that Cohen is fraudulently accusing him in an effort to get a less sentence.

Because the accusation centres on his company’s improper accounting of the payments as legal expenditures, Trump’s assertion that Daniels was extorting him may not be pertinent to the case.

Since that the statute of limitations does not take into account time spent living outside of New York state, it is unlikely to be a problem. Trump resided in Florida after leaving office in 2021 after having previously resided in Washington, D.C.

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