Donald Trump and his legal team were preparing for the unprecedented spectacle of an appearance in court on Tuesday of a former US president facing criminal charges.
The indictment of Trump remained under court seal on Friday, with details of the charges awaited. He was braced at his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, for the forthcoming trip to surrender to the authorities in New York after the surprise news on Thursday night that a grand jury had voted to charge him.
A lawyer representing Trump, Joe Tacopina, said on Friday that he understood from prosecutors that the former president will not be put in handcuffs when he surrenders to the authorities next week.
While Tacopina admitted that the news of the indictment came as a shock to Trump on Thursday, and it was understood that he learned about his fate from the press, Trump continued to attack the investigation of a hush-money scheme during the 2016 presidential election.
After the news broke that the grand jury had voted to indict Trump, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, said almost two hours later that he had contacted Trump’s attorneys to coordinate his surrender.
Trump expects to be arrested and arraigned – called to court to answer charges – on Tuesday afternoon in lower Manhattan, and he plans to plead not guilty to all charges, Tacopina said.
The attorney told ABC News that access to the courthouse would be severely restricted while the arraignment takes place, amid concerns about potential unrest over the unprecedented arrest of a former US president. He predicted that New York authorities would not “allow this to become a circus”.
“We’ll go in there and we’ll proceed to see a judge at some point, plead not guilty, start talking about filing motions, which we will do immediately and very aggressively regarding the legal viability of this case,” Tacopino said.
It remains unclear what specifically Trump has been indicted on, but he may face dozens of charges over his role in a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an extramarital affair with Trump beginning in 2006. Trump has denied the affair, and although he has acknowledged reimbursing his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, for the $130,000 payment to Daniels, he claims no wrongdoing in the case.
On Friday, the Associated Press reported that Trump’s indictment was said to contain multiple charges of falsifying business records, including at least one felony, according to people familiar with the matter, but the indictment itself has not been made public.
Daniels was due to give her first interview post-indictment to the British broadcaster Piers Morgan on Friday evening, but was forced to postpone due to unspecified “security issues”.
As Trump’s legal team prepared for a contentious and potentially lengthy legal battle, the former president continued to attack investigators via social media. In one post criticizing the judge assigned to his case, Trump pledged to appeal any ruling, even though the trial is far from starting.
“They only brought this Fake, Corrupt, and Disgraceful Charge against me because I stand with the American People, and they know that I cannot get a fair trial in New York!” Trump said on Thursday evening.
Trump’s successor has studiously avoided discussing the indictment. As he left the White House for a trip to Mississippi on Friday morning to survey damage from a lethal tornado a week ago, Joe Biden repeatedly told reporters “no comment” when asked for his response.
News of the indictment sent shockwaves around Capitol Hill, as Republicans rushed to Trump’s defense and Democrats reiterated that no one is above the law.
“The pre-eminence of the rule of law is central to the integrity of our democracy. It must be applied equally without fear or favor,” said the House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries. “The indictment of a former president is a serious moment for the nation. A jury of Donald Trump’s peers will now determine his legal fate.”
Top Republicans echoed Trump’s claims of political persecution, with the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, accusing Bragg of having “irreparably damaged our country”.
“The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account,” McCarthy said on Thursday.
Even some of Trump’s opponents in the 2024 Republican presidential primary came to his defense, as Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN, accused Bragg of trying to score “political points” by pursuing the case.
“It’s more about revenge than it is about justice,” Haley told Fox News.
Trump’s former vice-president, Mike Pence, who is widely expected to announce his own White House bid in the coming months, called the indictment “an outrage” and “the criminalization of politics in this country”.
Pence’s comments were particularly notable given that Trump supporters who attacked the US Capitol on January 6 2021, called for the vice-president to be hanged over his refusal to disrupt the congressional certification of Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
The CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer noted that Trump kicked off his campaign rally last weekend in Texas by playing a recording of the national anthem sung by January 6 insurrectionists. Asked whether he was comfortable with that, Pence replied: “No.”
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