The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

After Trump indictment is handed up, late-night hosts bring house down

Jimmy Kimmel and other late-night hosts celebrated former president Donald Trump's indictment during their shows on March 30. (Video: The Washington Post)
5 min

In his opening monologue Thursday, Stephen Colbert told his audience that he had read the big news that former president Donald Trump had been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury just three minutes before he walked out onstage to tape “The Late Show.”

As the crowd inside New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater roared and gave the news of Trump’s historic indictment a standing ovation, Colbert celebrated by taking a bite from a mountain of ice cream in a baseball helmet and gleefully squeezing canned whipped cream into his mouth.

“Ladies and gentlemen, he was right — we’re finally saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again!” Colbert exclaimed. “I didn’t know if this was going to be coming. I thought maybe it would never come. I used to think, ‘Ah, what does it matter if it came?’”

The host added, “I didn’t know it would feel this good.”

Across television Thursday, Colbert and other late-night hosts fired off joke after joke at the expense of Trump, who is the first person in U.S. history to serve as president and then be charged with a crime. Among the hosts was Jimmy Kimmel, who began his ABC show by hugging an American flag — a callback to Trump hugging one at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference.

“For the first time in the history of this country, an American president has been indicted for his role in paying hush money to a porn star,” Kimmel said, referencing the money paid to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, allegedly to keep her from saying she’d had a sexual encounter with Trump years earlier. “Although, in fairness, that’s a pretty narrow window. Like when Grover Cleveland was president, porn stars were very hard to come by. Still, it’s historic, and it’s funny — it’s very, very funny.”

The indictment against Trump, who is campaigning to return to the White House in 2024 and leading in most polls of Republican voters, was sealed. The charges had not been made public as of Friday morning. The grand jury has been hearing evidence related to the hush-money payments made to Daniels.

Trump indicted by N.Y. grand jury, first ex-president charged with crime

Trump, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and accused those of investigating him of being politically motivated, is expected to appear in court and turn himself in Tuesday, The Washington Post reports. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential rival to Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has already said on Twitter that his state would not work with New York on any extradition requests in case one is issued for Trump.

Live updates: Trump plans to turn himself in for arraignment Tuesday

While being charged with a crime, or being convicted of one, does not disqualify Trump from running for office, the former president remains the focus of criminal probes in Georgia and Washington, D.C., in cases related to his efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory and his handling of classified material at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home and private club.

As the Trump indictment dominated cable news and social media, late-night shows returned to one of their favorite targets in a day that the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Twitter account described as one that “many of us thought would never come!”

On CBS, Colbert said in his monologue that the indictment was “good news for everybody, even him,” joking that the former president could now formally join the “J6 Prison Choir.” Trump collaborated with a group of inmates in Washington who were jailed on charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol, and they released a song this month. Colbert then referenced the $130,000 paid by former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who has said he fronted the money involved in the Daniels transactions to ensure her silence ahead of the 2016 election before being reimbursed by Trump.

Kimmel joked that instead of running for president, Trump could start another TV show, floating possible titles like “The Celebrity Apprehentice” and “Arrested Developer.” The ABC host also wondered what it would look like when Trump turned himself in, especially when he is fingerprinted and read his Miranda rights.

“Wait till he finds out, all this time, he had the right to remain silent,” the late-night host mused. “He’s going to kick himself. That’s going to be a tough pill to swallow.”

Some of the hosts wondered what Daniels thought of the indictment. While Daniels’s lawyer Clark Brewster told USA Today that his client called it “a sad day,” NBC’s Jimmy Fallon joked about what she really might have been thinking.

“When she heard, Stormy Daniels was like, ‘Oh, so this is what it feels like to be satisfied?’ ” Fallon said on “The Tonight Show.”

The Twitter account for “The Daily Show” tweeted that actor John Leguizamo had “won the Daily Show guest host lottery” by being the person who got to announce the indictment on the Comedy Central program. But Leguizamo had a message for any children who were witnessing Trump’s indictment and were curious what it all meant.

“Let this be a lesson to all you kids out there, okay?” the guest host said. “If you commit fraud to cover up an affair with a porn star, the law will catch up to you after, like, seven years and a full term as president.”

Jacqueline Alemany, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Shayna Jacobs contributed to this report.