On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a landmark case involving allegations that he orchestrated hush-money payments to two women before the 2016 U.S. election intouppress publication of their sexual encounters with him.
During his victorious 2016 presidential campaign, Manhattan prosecutors accused Trump, the first sitting or former U.S. president to face criminal charges, of concealing a violation of election rules.
When asked by the judge how he pled in court, Trump, 76, said, "Not guilty," At the defence table, Trump sat with his hands folded, attired in a dark blue suit and scarlet tie, flanked by his attorneys.
When asked if he understood a right, Trump, the front-runner for the GOP candidacy in 2024, provided affirmative responses such as "yes" At one point, the judge placed his hand to his ear to elicit a response.
Prosecutor Chris Conroy stated, "The defendant Donald J. Trump falsified New York business records to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election and other violations of election laws."
In New York, fabricating company documents is a misdemeanour punishable by up to one year in prison. But, it is elevated to a felony punishable by up to four years in jail when used to further or hide another crime, such as election law breaches.
Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress, and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model, are the two women involved in the case.
Social Media Posts
During his hearing, prosecutors stated that Trump made several social media posts, including one that threatened "death and destruction" if he was indicted. The judge requested that the parties refrain from making statements likely to provoke violence or civil disorder.
On a chilly and beautiful early spring day in New York, police erected barricades to maintain order between Trump supporters and opponents before the arraignment. However, there were several incidents.
Trump did not speak as he entered or exited the courtroom almost one hour apart.
Tuesday night, he addressed relatives, friends, and supporters at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, detailing his grievances against investigators, prosecutors, and opposing politicians.
He termed the prosecution in New York as electoral interference.
Trump stated, "I never thought anything like this could happen in America," "The only crime that I've committed has been to fearlessly defend our nation against those who seek to destroy it."
A county prosecutor in Georgia is conducting a separate criminal investigation into whether Trump unlawfully attempted to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. In addition, he is the subject of two Justice Department investigations led by a special counsel over his handling of secret documents after leaving office. He attempts to change the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump stated, "They can't beat us at the ballot box, so they try to beat us through the law,"
Trump posted earlier in the day on social media: "Courthouse in Lower Manhattan; destination. Wow, I'm about to get ARRESTED - this seems so UNREAL. Can't believe this is occurring in the United States."
The staff of Manhattan District Attorney Bragg looks to have produced a strong case, according to Adam Kaufmann, a former Manhattan prosecutor who now represents defendants.
"What they've done is taken a bare bone falsifying business records indictment, and through the statements of facts, presented it as part of the conspiracy, which I think is very effective," Kaufmann said.
Former prosecutor Jeremy Saland cautioned that prosecutors "have a very long road ahead with these charges" because they must prove to a jury that Trump meant to violate election law, even though he is not criminally charged.
Judges Set December 4 Hearing
Judge Juan Merchan scheduled the next hearing for December 4. According to legal experts, a trial may not even begin for another year, and an indictment or conviction will not bar Trump from running for president.
Trump's attorney Todd Blanche told reporters following the arraignment, "We're going to fight it hard," He stated that Trump was agitated, angry, and disturbed about the claims. "He is motivated... And this will not stop him. And it will not hinder him in any way. And it is precisely what he anticipated."
The accusations were disputed by Bragg, a Democrat who pursued the case and was accused by Trump and other Republicans of targeting him for political purposes.
"Today, we uphold our solemn obligation to ensure everyone is treated equally under the law. No amount of money or influence can alter this timeless American ethic, "Bragg stated at a press conference.
Trump was indicted after a grand jury summoned by Bragg heard testimony regarding a $130,000 payment to Daniels in the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has claimed she was paid to be silent about a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump at a hotel in Lake Tahoe.
According to prosecutors, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker volunteered to watch for damaging reports throughout Trump's campaign. Its parent firm, American Media Inc., paid McDougal $150,000 to acquire the rights to her tale but kept the transaction secret. It also produced a former Trump Tower doorman $30,000 for the rights to a false story about an illegitimate child Trump purportedly fathered.
Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, has stated that he arranged payments to Daniels and McDougal with Trump. Trump has denied having sexual contact with either woman but has admitted reimbursing Cohen for the cost made to Daniels.
Prosecutors claim that Trump's reimbursement cheques to an attorney for the suppression payments fraudulently claimed that the money was for a "retainer agreement," The indictment alleged that Trump falsified the books of his real estate company to mislead.
According to the indictment, the falsified records included invoices from Cohen, entries in a ledger for Trump maintained by the Trump Organization, and check stubs.
Several media outlets are accused of using a "catch and kill" technique to hide harmful material.
Trump was not charged with breaching election laws by Bragg's office.
"In New York state law, falsifying company records to defraud and conceal another crime is a felony. This case involves explicitly 34 false statements designed to cover additional crimes, "Bragg said.