Updated Apr 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Timeline: The probe into Trump's alleged hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels

Photo of Donald Trump speaking from a podium

Former President Trump speaks in Davenport, Iowa, on March 13, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alarcon Avila/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Trump's hush money trial stems from events purported to have taken place over nearly two decades, well before his entry into politics vaulted him to the presidency.

The big picture: The presumptive GOP presidential nominee faces 34 felony counts stemming from allegations he falsified business records to cover up payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who first publicly alleged the two had an affair in 2018.

  • Trump has denied the claim, but has changed his story regarding the payment as events played out.
  • He has pleaded not guilty in the case and has denied any wrongdoing.
  • Up to the week before the trial's start, Trump's defense team has repeatedly lost attempts to delay it.

How the probe starts

2006: Daniels met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe, Nev., she said in a 2018 interview with "60 Minutes." The two had sex in his hotel suite after he invited her to dinner, she alleged.

Michael Cohen negotiates for silence

2016: Actress Karen McDougal's attorney Keith Davidson approaches the National Enquirer about selling her story of an affair she had with Trump in 2006 and 2007, according to documents later filed by the Federal Election Commission.

  • The Enquirer secures the rights to her story for $150,000, but never publishes it — a tactic used to quash her claims to prevent their influence in the election, which its parent company American Media Inc. (AMI) admits to in a 2018 non-prosecution agreement.
  • Trump's then-lawyer Michael Cohen links up with David Pecker, chair and CEO of AMI, to discuss possibly buying the nondisclosure portion of McDougal's agreement with AMI for $125,000.
  • Davidson, who now also represents Daniels, tells the Enquirer she's willing to share details about her alleged affair on the record. The Enquirer notifies Cohen, who agrees to pay Daniels $130,000 in exchange for the rights to her story and a nondisclosure agreement.

Cohen seeks reimbursement

January 2017: As Trump is preparing to take office, Cohen requests reimbursement from the Trump Organization for the payment to Daniels — which the company's executives grant in double, per federal prosecutors who later oversee Cohen's case.

January 2018: The Wall Street Journal publishes details of the payment to Daniels — the first public account of the deal. Cohen does not address the payment itself, but tells the Journal in a statement that Trump "vehemently denies" allegations of an affair.

February 2018: Cohen releases a statement saying he did make the payment to Daniels but was not reimbursed for it and that the Trump campaign was not involved. "The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone," he said.

Daniels sues Trump

March 2018: Daniels sues Trump in federal court to invalidate the nondisclosure agreement, arguing that Trump never signed it.

  • In the lawsuit, which includes a copy of the deal, she says Cohen paid her $130,000 for her silence and accuses him of using "intimidation and coercive tactics" to get her to publicly deny the affair after the Journal's report.
  • A set of emails that Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti released shows that Cohen used his Trump Organization email account to facilitate the wire transfer for the deal.

April 2018: Trump in his first public comments says he's unaware of the payment to Daniels.

May 2018: Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani says Trump did in fact reimburse Cohen and knew about the "general arrangement."

  • Trump attempts to do damage control the next day, tweeting that Cohen received a "monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties."

Cohen pleads guilty to federal charges

August 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to eight charges of tax evasion, fraud and campaign finance violations in connection with his payments to Daniels and McDougal, which the DOJ called an attempt "to influence the 2016 presidential election."

  • During his guilty plea, Cohen says in federal court he was directed to violate campaign law at the direction of an unnamed candidate. That same candidate directed him to pay $130,000 in hush money, which the candidate later reimbursed.
  • Cohen is sentenced to three years in prison.

July 2019: The federal investigation into the payments concludes, with Trump's team claiming victory over what he continues to call an extortion scheme.

Manhattan D.A. subpoenas Trump Organization

August 2019: The Manhattan District Attorney's Office subpoenas the Trump Organization for records related to the payments.

September 2019: The office issues another subpoena for Trump's tax returns dating back to 2011. Trump sues to block the subpoena and appeals the ruling to the Supreme Court, which in February 2021 finds that he is not shielded from the subpoena.

  • Over the next few years, several charges are brought against the Trump Organization and its top executives for tax-related fraud.

March 2023: Trump is invited to testify before a New York grand jury investigating the alleged hush-money payment to Daniels. Trump's representatives call the "threat" of indictment "insane."

  • Cohen appears before the grand jury. His lawyer says he's already had 20 interviews with the district attorney's office.
  • Daniels also meets with prosecutors involved in the probe.
  • Trump claims an imminent arrest and calls on supporters to "take our nation back."

Trump indicted by Manhattan grand jury

March 2023: A grand jury in New York indicts Trump over the Manhattan investigation.

  • "This evening we contacted Mr. Trump's attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.'s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal," a spokesperson for Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
  • Trump in a statement Thursday claimed the indictment was an act of "Political Persecution" and accused Democrats of "weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent."

Trump is arrested, pleads not guilty in court

April 2023: The former president pleads not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree in a Manhattan criminal court after he was arrested and arraigned Friday.

  • Prosecutors allege Trump conducted a "catch and kill" scheme during the 2016 election, including the $130,000 payment to Daniels.
  • They allege the National Enquirer paid $150,000 to another woman, who is believed to be former Playboy model Karen McDougal. She claims to have had a sexual relationship with Trump, according to the indictment's statement of facts.
  • Prosecutors say the National Enquirer allegedly paid $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who was said to have a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock.

May 2023: Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the case, issues a protective order limiting what evidence Trump can share publicly.

July 2023: A federal judge rejects Trump's attempt to move the case to a federal court.

October 2023: The former president requests that the charges against him be dropped.

February 2024: Merchan denies Trump's motion to dismiss the case, allowing the trial to proceed at its scheduled date.

Trial delays and gag orders

March 2024: Merchan delays the start of the trial by at least 30 days.

  • The delay comes after Bragg's office said it supported a 30-day delay in the case in light of the production of thousands of new records.
  • Merchan sets jury selection in the case for April 15.
  • The judge issues a limited gag order in the case, barring Trump from commenting on witnesses, prosecutors, court staff and jurors.

April 2024: Merchan expands the limited gag order to stop Trump from attacking family members of those involved in the case.

Go deeper: Key players in the Trump hush-money case

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper