Networks Scramble to Cover Breaking News of Former Pres. Trump’s Indictment

By A.J. Katz 

The New York Times broke news in the 5 p.m. ET hour Thursday that former President Trump had been indicted by a New York grand jury over allegations that he had made $130,000 in hush-money payments to an adult film star just days before the 2016 presidential election.

It’s the first time a former American president has ever faced criminal charges, and the breaking news story sent cable and broadcast news outlets into scramble mode.

Fox News’ most-watched show, The Five, was live when Sandra Smith, a FNC anchor who was ironically subbing in for regular show co-host Dana Perino, interrupted the discussion to report the breaking news.


“We have just gotten word: Former President Donald Trump has been indicted by a grand jury in New York,” said Smith.

The announcement elicited an audible gasp from at least one of her on-air colleagues.

The reactions were immediate and Smith’s colleagues weren’t exactly pleased.

“It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” co-host Jesse Watters said. “And I feel bad for the guy. He didn’t really have to be president. He had a lot of money, he had a great life, and now they’re trying to nickel and dime him for a private agreement he made with a woman, what, eight years ago?”

He added: “I’m angry about it. I don’t like it. The country is not going to stand for it. And people better be careful. And that’s all I’ll say about that.”

The network’s Sunday show moderator Shannon Bream said later in the evening that there are “scholars, there are experienced lawyers who say what is actually happening here is not on strong legal footing.”

She then added, “They are warning Alvin Bragg regardless of whether they are to the left, right, or center, you’re taking a big chance of actually getting a conviction here. So do you take this chance, you get the indictment, you proceed, and if you don’t get a conviction then President Trump is again able to point, hey to you used this really novel theory that even the left didn’t think was going to work so this proves it was nothing but political. So there has been caution, and strong public growing opposition from legal experts and scholars on the left who say, this way he’s trying to put together this case is very unlikely to succeed, but you’ve got to convince a jury, made up of New Yorkers, we’ll see what they think.”

Fox News’ chief political anchor Bret Baier provided analysis of his own in the 6 p.m. hour.

“This is a big, big moment, and you’ve been talking about the political implications but it’s also important to remember what didn’t happen with this charge originally,” said Baier. “The prosecutors from the Southern District of New York decided to let go and not go down this road originally. The Federal Election Commission decided they did not want to go down this road on this investigation, and they gave up. And Alvin Bragg himself, as District Attorney, when he took over decided to suspend indefinitely the investigation into trump and then picked it up later. So the history was not something that I think, even the diehard Democrats who want to see the former president charged with something, didn’t think this was the best case that they had, but we are where we are and this is unprecedented territory.”

Baier added that he hoped to hear from the ex-president. “I’d like to put in the call right now: If the former president would like to phone in, we’d love to have his reaction to this news tonight,” said Baier.

Over on CNN, Wolf Blitzer announced the news during the network’s flagship political program, The Situation Room. Blitzer told viewers it was “historic” news — the first time a former president had been indicted on criminal charges. It’s likely Blitzer’s most significant on-air moment since he broke news in November 2020 that President Biden had won the 2020 presidential election.

CNN quickly convened a cavalcade cast of analysts, internal and external, legal and political alike to discuss the events.

In light of the breaking news, the 8 p.m. ET hour turned into a live CNN special titled The Indictment of Donald Trump, a program that was co-anchored by Anderson Cooper and Jake Tapper. The duo were joined in a New York studio by a rotating cast of legal analysts and reporters.

Then at 9 p.m. ET, CNN went ahead with its pre-scheduled live interview with former Vice President Mike Pence, moderated by Wolf Blitzer (what fortuitous timing!). Pence, as expected, was not pleased to learn of Trump’s indictment, calling it “an outrage” (among other things) during his sit-down with Blitzer.

The news broke on MSNBC during Nicolle Wallace’s 5 p.m. hour, and ironically right before the network’s law-focused program The Beat with Ari Melber. MSNBC’s chief legal correspondent who hosts the network’s 6 p.m. hour, Melber joined Wallace during her hour to break down the events at hand, and then on his own show warned viewers not to jump to conclusions and let judicial process play out. However, he did add that the former president “could literally be incarcerated.”

It’s all hands on deck over at MSNBC. Rachel Maddow, who is usually off on Thursday, is hosting The Rachel Maddow Show at 9 p.m. Lawrence O’Donnell will continue to host the network’s 10 p.m. hour, Stephanie Ruhle is hosting two hours (11 p.m.-1 a.m. ET), as opposed to her usual one hour nightly program. The network is offering special live coverage from 12-5 a.m., with Ruhle leading the midnight hour, O’Donnell returning to host 1 a.m., and then Ali Velshi taking the overnight shift (2-5 a.m. ET).

On the broadcast news side, NBC, ABC and CBS broke into regularly-scheduled programming to report the breaking news. The networks had correspondents dispatched throughout Manhattan — outside DA’s office in Lower Manhattan, Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Others were stationed by Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. and near his plane at Palm Beach International Airport in nearby West Palm Beach.

Much of the TV news coverage, as of publication time, has focused on questions about what exactly the charges could be. Most of the charges are still unknown, although sources close to CNN, for example, said that Trump is facing 34 counts related to business fraud. Other topics of conversation include when Trump would be arraigned (which sources say is going to be Tuesday), well as security preparations that are underway in Manhattan and elsewhere.