Donald Trump was charged on Tuesday with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a historic case over allegations he orchestrated hush-money payments to two women before the 2016 US election to suppress publication of their alleged sexual encounters with him. Prosecutors in Manhattan accused Trump, the first sitting or former US president to face criminal charges, of trying to conceal a violation of election laws during his successful 2016 campaign. The two women in the case are adult film actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges. The frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination in 2024, Trump was subdued, responding briefly when the judge asked him if he understood his rights. At one point, the judge put his hand to his ear as if to prompt an answer. Trump made no comment when he left court just under an hour later.
Trump flew home to Florida where he addressed family, friends and supporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, delivering a litany of grievances against investigators, prosecutors and rival politicians. He falsely described the New York prosecution as election interference.
Prosecutor Chris Conroy said: “The defendant Donald J Trump falsified New York business records in order to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election and other violations of election laws.” While falsifying business records in New York on its own is a misdemeanour punishable by no more than one year in prison, it is elevated to a felony punishable by up to four years when done to advance or conceal another crime, such as election law violations.
Attorney general Alvin Bragg defended the charges in a press conference after the arraignment. “We today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law. No amount of money and no amount of power changes that enduring American principle,” Bragg said.
“We’re going to fight it hard,” Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, told reporters after the arraignment. He said that while Trump was frustrated, upset and angry about the charges, “ … he’s motivated. And it’s not going to stop him. And it’s not going to slow him down. And it’s exactly what he expected.”
Justice Juan Merchan, the judge assigned to Trump’s case, did not impose a gag order but warned Trump to avoid making comments that were inflammatory or could cause civil unrest. Prosecutors said Trump made a series of social media posts, including one threatening “death and destruction” if he was charged. If convicted of any one of the 34 felony charges, Trump could face a maximum of four years in prison.
The judge set the next hearing for 4 December. Legal experts said a trial may not even get under way for a year. An indictment or conviction will not legally prevent Trump from running for president.
Trump’s mugshot was not taken, according to two law enforcement officials, though the Trump camp did create their own one to put on a T-shirt as part of a fundraising effort.
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