Former President Donald J. Trump enters the Manhattan courtroom Tuesday for...

Former President Donald J. Trump enters the Manhattan courtroom Tuesday for arraignment following his indictment in New York last week. Credit: Craig Ruttle

Tuesday's unsealing of the indictment against Donald Trump capped five years of investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the opening of a new role for Trump: criminal defendant. The indictment contains 34 counts of falsifying business records.

Here are answers to some questions about the case. 

What is the case about?

Trump is alleged to have paid money to silence a pornographic actor named Stormy Daniels, with whom he had an alleged extramarital sexual encounter, which he has denied. That payoff, the Manhattan district attorney’s office alleges, was disguised in a way that violated the state law against falsifying business records.

What other alleged peccadillos of Trump’s have been mentioned in the controversy?

Trump is also alleged to have committed infidelity with, and paid off, a onetime Playboy model named Karen McDougal, who told CNN in 2018 that she had an affair with Trump that began the year after he married his third wife, Melania. Also at issue is a payoff to a door attendant who alleged that he had information about a child fathered by Trump out of wedlock.

What is Michael Cohen’s role?

Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to a federal crime involving campaign finance, paid Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 presidential election. The Manhattan district attorney’s office alleges that in the year after, Trump paid Cohen money disguised as legal fees to reimburse him for fronting the money.

What is the district attorney’s theory of the case?

The district attorney’s office is relying on an untested legal theory using New York’s business records falsification law to prosecute Trump under these circumstances. That theory hasn’t been resolved in New York’s courts.

Why is the legal theory believed to be in uncharted waters?

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to cover up a crime. But even if Trump covered up a federal campaign finance crime, he hasn’t been charged with it, and it’s unclear whether a local prosecutor can cite a federal crime in charging Trump under a state law. The district attorney's office hasn’t publicly identified a predicate crime that Trump allegedly was involved in covering up.

When is the case back in court?

Dec. 4, although court filings by the prosecution and Trump’s defense are due earlier.

What other investigations are there into Trump's activities?

One case involves examining whether there was criminality in Trump's keeping of classified documents at his resort home of Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Another is looking into potential interference during 2020 in the certification of the Electoral College. Both are being handled by a special prosecutor named Jack Smith.

A third investigation, in Georgia, is examining whether Trump tried to alter the result of the elections in that state (the infamous demand "to find 11,780 votes").

What has Trump said about the case?

He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday at Manhattan criminal court. Later in the day, he spoke at Mar-a-Lago, calling the prosecution unfair and politically motivated and questioned the character of the prosecutor, Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg. He also called the judge handling the case, Juan Merchan, “a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family.” Last month, Trump warned of “potential death and destruction" if prosecuted.

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