The Manhattan grand jury investigating Donald Trump's role in a hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels chose to indict him, making him the first former US president to face criminal charges.
According to multiple sources, Mr Trump faces more than 30 accusations, although the particular charges are not yet disclosed.
The news of the indictment followed allegations that security measures were being reinstated around the Lower Manhattan courthouse and that the grand jury was investigating a payment to another lady.
Due to a planned hiatus, it was believed that any indictment would be postponed for weeks; the timing of the charge allegedly surprised the former president.
The charge comes as the former president continues to campaign for the presidency, attacking his opponent Ron DeSantis by accusing him of foreign policy inexperience and bailing out insurers to the disadvantage of hurricane-ravaged Floridians. Despite having no legal authority, Mr DeSantis stated Thursday evening that he would not "extradite" Mr Trump.
Trump's likely appear before a judge in Manhattan as the first sitting or past president to face criminal charges, with foreign media camped outside, might further polarize the most powerful nation in the world.
Although the indictment remains under seal, the particular allegations against Trump are not yet revealed; nevertheless, CNN claimed on Thursday that Trump faces more than 30 counts of corporate fraud.
Trump, 76, asserted his innocence and accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who led the inquiry, of attempting to harm his presidential prospects.
Trump said in a statement, "This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,"
Trump then solicited funds from his fans for his legal defence.
Since March 18, according to his campaign, he has raised over $2 million and called for protests.
On Thursday, a tiny group of supporters demonstrated at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, waving flags along the highway. At the New York District Attorney's office, a critic of the former president held a banner that read, "Lock him up and throw away the key."
Officials increased security outside the Manhattan courthouse after Trump called for nationwide rallies earlier this month, reflecting his inflammatory rhetoric before January 6, 2021, attack on the United States. His admirers surround Capitol.
On Thursday, neither the White House nor President Joe Biden, a Democrat generally anticipated to run for re-election in a potential rematch against Donald Trump, reacted.
But, the party's leader in the Senate, Majority Leader Charles Schumer, urged calm.
"I encourage both Mr Trump’s critics and supporters to let the process proceed peacefully and according to the law," he said.
The Manhattan inquiry is just one of Trump's many legal challenges.
Trump is now the subject of a second criminal investigation into whether he unlawfully attempted to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia and two studies by a special counsel, one of which concerns his handling of confidential documents after leaving office.
According to a court official, a judge will likely unseal the Manhattan charges in the coming days, and Trump will have to fly there to be fingerprinted and photographed on his "surrender date" of Tuesday.
The defendant will subsequently be brought before a judge and formally charged.
After months of hearing testimony about an alleged $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in the dying days of the 2016 campaign, a grand jury issued an indictment on Thursday.
However, according to legal experts, any potential trial is at least a year away, so that it might come during or after the presidential campaign.
Susan Necheles and Joe Tacopina, attorneys for Donald Trump, stated that they would "vigorously fight" the charges.
Trump garnered backing from several potential Republican nominee challenges, including Florida Governor Ron Desantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence stated, "This will only further serve to divide our country,"
Trump might use the lawsuit to enflame his core base of followers, while other GOP voters may weary of the commotion.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published last week, 44% of Republicans believe he should withdraw from the race if indicted.
The extent to which this case affects the election could have far-reaching consequences beyond the borders of the United States.
Trump frequently clashed with allies on trade and defence while he was president from 2017 to 2021, and his return to the White House is likely to erode US support for Ukraine.