'Rule of law has died': Trump 'ready to fight' indictment, attorney says

Donald Trump’s indictment this week by a Manhattan grand jury came as a "shock" to the formed president, according to his attorney – who added that Trump is "ready to fight now."

The indictment, the first against a former U.S. president, was a historic reckoning after years of investigations into his personal, political and business dealings. The exact nature of the charges was still unclear Friday because the indictment remained under seal, but they stem from payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter. 

Prosecutors said they were working to coordinate Trump’s surrender, which could happen early next week. Appearing on Good Day New York, Trump’s attorney Joe Tacopina said the date was still being discussed amid several security factors, but that it would happen "likely Tuesday." 

RELATED: Increased security, but no sense of surprise: NYC reacts to Trump indictment

Tacopina also decried the Manhattan district attorney’s office case. 

"This is really about a political persecution, weaponizing of the justice system to pursue a political opponent," Tacopina said. "Look, the rule of law has been really stretched in this case. And unfortunately for Americans, I think the rule of law today has died."

His words echoed Trump’s statement released soon after the news broke. Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly assailed the investigation, called the indictment "political persecution" and predicted it would damage Democrats in 2024. 

Tacopina has also insisted that Trump would not take a plea deal.

"Initially after getting over the shock of this actually coming to fruition, because we all were hoping that justice would prevail… he is just a tough guy, and he's someone whose knees do not buckle, and he's ready to fight now," Tacopina told Good Day New York. 

"This case is one that will not last. We will win this case," he added. 

The case centers on well-chronicled allegations from a period in 2016 when Trump’s celebrity past collided with his political ambitions. Prosecutors for months scrutinized money paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, whom he feared would go public with claims that they had extramarital sexual encounters with him.

The timing of the indictment appeared to come as a surprise to Trump campaign officials following news reports that criminal charges were likely weeks away. The former president was at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, on Thursday and filmed an interview with a conservative commentator earlier in the day.

For a man whose presidency was defined by one obliterated norm after another, the indictment sets up yet another never-before-seen spectacle — a former president having his fingerprints and mugshot taken, and then facing arraignment. 

For security reasons, his booking is expected to be carefully choreographed to avoid crowds inside or outside the courthouse.

Trump is also currently ramping up to regain the White House in 2024 while simultaneously battling other legal problems. Tacopina noted how he acts as legal counsel and is "not a campaign strategist," but said the indictment "seems to have driven his poll numbers up through the roof."

"I think it's further solidifying the people who believe that he is being targeted by political opponents and that the weaponization of the justice system is in full effect," he told Good Day New York.

‘You can indict a ham sandwich’

Peter Frankel, a former prosecutor and current New York City criminal defense attorney, was at the courthouse when the indictment was announced on Thursday evening and called the situation "very tense."

"Obviously, security is of paramount concern right now," Frankel told Good Day New York, adding that he didn’t think the indictment announcement was expected among court officers. 

"I think that this was not something that they were prepared for. I spoke to a bunch of court officers," Frankel said. "They told me that they had just recently gotten the word that they had to basically stay and do overtime. So it was an announcement that wasn't expected."

Frankel noted how this is unprecedented in America, and said there are two ways to consider the situation. 

"Number one, either he's engaged in some criminal conduct, and he's been called to task for it, and he has to answer for it, which is obviously disturbing if it's true," Frankel said. "Or number two, this is a political prosecution weaponizing the criminal justice system, and that's even worse."

In bringing the charges, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, is embracing an unusual case that was investigated by two previous sets of prosecutors, both of which declined to take the politically explosive step of seeking Trump’s indictment. 

The case may also turn in part on the testimony of a key witness, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges arising from the hush money payments, including making false statements.

Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to keep her silent about what she says was a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier after they met at a celebrity golf tournament.

Cohen was then reimbursed by Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, which also rewarded the lawyer with bonuses and extra payments logged internally as legal expenses. Over several months, Cohen said, the company paid him $420,000.

Earlier in 2016, Cohen also arranged for the publisher of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer to pay McDougal $150,000 to squelch her story of a Trump affair in a journalistically dubious practice known as "catch-and-kill."

The payments to the women were intended to buy secrecy, but they backfired almost immediately as details of the arrangements leaked to the news media.

Federal prosecutors in New York ultimately charged Cohen in 2018 with violating federal campaign finance laws, arguing that the payments amounted to impermissible help to Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty to those charges and unrelated tax evasion counts and served time in federal prison.

Trump was implicated in court filings as having knowledge of the arrangements — obliquely referred to in charging documents as "Individual 1" — but U.S. prosecutors at the time balked at bringing charges against him. The Justice Department has a longtime policy against indicting a sitting president in federal court.

Bragg’s predecessor as district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., then took up the investigation in 2019. While that probe initially focused on the hush money payments, Vance’s prosecutors moved on to other matters, including an examination of Trump’s business dealings and tax strategies.

Vance ultimately charged the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer with tax fraud related to fringe benefits paid to some of the company’s top executives.

The hush money matter became known around the D.A.’s office as the "zombie case," with prosecutors revisiting it periodically but never opting to bring charges.

Bragg saw it differently. 

Speaking on Good Day New York, Frankel said a grand jury indictment is "easy… you can indict a ham sandwich."

"It's slanted to the district attorney. They run the show. They can get whatever they want as far as an indictment is concerned," Frankel said. "But now is the time to pull back the curtain."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.