Donald Trump turned himself in at a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday, an extraordinary scene that marks the first time in American history a former US president has faced criminal charges.
Trump, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, arrived at the lower Manhattan courthouse at about 1pm, escorted by Secret Service agents. Trump was set to be arraigned, fingerprinted and possibly photographed. Though defendants charged with felonies are typically handcuffed, Trump’s legal team has said he would not be.
The unprecedented proceedings, including a booking and court appearance before Judge Juan Merchan, were slated to be brief but remarkable, as the twice-impeached former president learns the indictment against him, and, as expected, enters a plea of not guilty to charges related to his role in a hush-money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, made days before the 2016 election. Court access will be limited: Merchan ruled late on Monday night that TV cameras would not be allowed in the courtroom.
“There’s a lot of mystery here because we’re doing something that’s never been done before,” Joe Tacopina, a Trump lawyer, told ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday.
After the arraignment, Trump plans to return to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, where his campaign has scheduled a primetime news event with hundreds of high-profile supporters and possibly some of his most loyal allies on Capitol Hill.
Trump, who was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury last week, has cast himself as a “completely innocent person” and denounced the charges as part of a broader conspiracy designed by Democrats to damage his political prospects. Prosecutors say the case against Trump has nothing to do with politics.
For weeks, a grand jury heard evidence related to a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, who says she had an extra-marital affair with Trump in 2006, something the former president has denied. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, made the payment to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign to keep her from going public about the alleged encounter. He was later reimbursed by Trump, by then the president. The payments to Cohen were recorded by the Trump Organization as legal expenses. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal tax evasion and campaign-finance violation charges.
Since news of the indictment, Trump has escalated his attacks on the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. He has also assailed Merchan, the judge in the case and an acting New York supreme court justice. In a social media post, Trump claimed Merchan “hates me”. The judge presided over a criminal trial last year that resulted in conviction of Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, as well as the criminal fraud case involving Trump’s former White House strategist Steve Bannon.
Security is tight ahead of Trump’s return to New York, where he built his brand as a real estate mogul and launched his bid for the presidency in 2016, riding a golden escalator into the atrium of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.
Arriving in the city on a private jet emblazoned with his name, the former president spent the night in his Trump Tower penthouse on Monday, as he prepared to turn himself in to New York authorities.
With the violence of the January 6 Capitol attack still fresh, barricades have been erected around Trump Tower and the Manhattan criminal court building downtown, ahead of expected demonstrations. Allies of the president have urged supporters to remain “peaceful”, despite a warning from Trump that an indictment against him could result in “potential death and destruction”.
The New York case is just one of the many legal challenges posing a threat to Trump as he mounts a third run for president. A prosecutor in Georgia is investigating Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat in the state. At the same time, the US justice department is investigating Trump’s attempts to cling to power in 2020 that culminated in the deadly assault on the US Capitol by his supporters, as well as his retention of classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021.
Nevertheless, the indictment has appeared to boost his support among Republicans, which had softened since he left office. Recent polling shows Trump widening his lead over the notional Republican field of candidates, with his challengers and potential rivals rallying to his side. The campaign has also touted record fundraising.
Yet several surveys, all taken in advance of the charges being made public, indicate that a majority of Americans agree with the grand jury’s decision and support the indictment.
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