Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to his alleged role in hush money payments toward the end of his 2016 presidential campaign — the first time a former president has had to plead to criminal charges.
The indictment was unsealed in a brief proceeding before Judge Juan Merchan. Trump was flanked by his lawyers inside the courtroom as prosecutors outlined their case against him, alleging he made covert and illegal payments in order to impact the 2016 election.
Trump, the statement of facts compiled by prosecutors in conjunction with the indictment said, “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”
The statement of facts included information about hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, Playboy model Karen McDougal and a former Trump Tower doorman who’d claimed to have a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock.
Daniels was paid $130,000 by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, while McDougal and the doorman were paid $150,000 and $30,000 respectively by AMI, the publishers of the National Enquirer.
Asked for his plea, Trump answered, “Not guilty.”
Prosecutor Chris Conroy also told the judge they were “very concerned” about Trump’s inflammatory social media posts about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, other prosecutors and the judge, saying they could have an impact on potential effects on jurors and witnesses.
Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the judge his client is “upset” and was simply exercising his First Amendment rights. The judge warned both sides against escalating their rhetoric, but did not issue any type of gag order.
Trump arrived at the courthouse at 100 Centre St. in lower Manhattan in a presidential-style motorcade from Trump Tower in midtown, where he’d stayed overnight. He was informed he was under arrest, fingerprinted and processed ahead of his arraignment.
“Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America,” he said in a post on his social media platform Truth Social that published as he was arriving at the courthouse.
With a media circus outside, Trump was escorted out of the courthouse and back into his car afterwards. He’s expected to address reporters about the charges in remarks at his Florida home Tuesday night.
Live updates: Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony charges
In a statement, Bragg said his office alleges Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”
He said “the trail of money and lies exposes a pattern that, the People allege, violates one of New York’s basic and fundamental business laws. As this office has done time and time again, we today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law.”
Trump lawyer Blanche called the charges “really disappointing.” “It’s sad and we’re going to fight it hard,” he said, saying the former president is “upset and frustrated and disappointed and mad that this happened.”
The legal troubles, media spectacle and porn-star-hush-money salaciousness at the heart of the case are a new chapter for the New York tycoon-turned-TV-star-turned-politician, whose career has careened from scandal to success for four decades. This time, unlike his bankrupted casinos or failed marriages, many of Trump’s supporters and detractors argue that the fate of American democracy is hanging in the balance as the former president increasingly conflates any legal woes as an effort to illegitimately deny him a return to power.
With the failures of Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot still fresh in officials’ minds, security was high in the courthouse and nearby areas as the police department, court officers and Secret Service braced for protests amid the unprecedented arraignment of a former president.
Source : NBC News