Wednesday briefing: the Trump prosecutors have audio – and what else we learned in court | Donald Trump

Good morning. Donald Trump arrived with his 11-vehicle motorcade at the Manhattan criminal courthouse in the early afternoon, had his fingerprints taken, was assigned a New York State identification number, and walked into his arraignment behind a court officer who let the door swing shut in his face. Then, around half a century after he was first accused of breaking the law, he finally faced charges for the first time.

In response to indictment number 71543-23, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records. He stands accused of covering up hush money payments made to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, and left without speaking to reporters. He is the first former president to face criminal charges in American history.

Speaking later from his home at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Trump furiously claimed that “the only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it”. But new evidence contained in the indictment suggest how difficult it could be to persuade a jury of that view. Today’s newsletter runs you through the details of an historic day, the specifics of the case against the former president, and the likely contours of what happens next. Here are the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Technology | TikTok has been fined £12.7m for multiple breaches of data protection law, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said on Tuesday. The commissioner has said that the company failed to enforce age limits, meaning that up to 1.4 million UK children under 13 are using the platform as of 2020, according to its own data.

  2. Environment | Thérèse Coffey has admitted she cannot end the rampant pollution of rivers with sewage as she launched the government’s cleaner water plan. Critics accused the environment secretary of abdicating her responsibilities after she argued that upgrading sewage systems would add hundreds of pounds to bills, adding that those who say they could end the problem are “either detached from reality or being definitively dishonest”.

  3. Israel | Dozens of worshippers were injured in clashes at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound early on Wednesday, in what Israeli police said was a response to rioting. Jordan’s foreign ministry condemned the al-Aqsa clashes, while Egypt called for an immediate halt to Israel’s “blatant assault on worshippers”.

  4. Brexit | Sweden has expelled nearly 1,100 British citizens since Brexit, according to data released by the European Commission. The news comes after the “deeply shocking” decision by Sweden’s immigration authorities to order an elderly British woman with Alzheimer’s to leave the country because she did not have relevant post-Brexit residency papers.

  5. Romance | Rupert Murdoch has abruptly ended his engagement to the conservative radio host Ann Lesley Smith. The 92-year-old was due to get married to Smith, 66, less than a year after he finalised his divorce from Jerry Hall.

In depth: ‘So what do we got to pay for this? One fifty?’

Donald Trump arrives at the courthousePin
Donald Trump arrives at the courthouse Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

As serious as the indictment of a former president is, the rolling news coverage of a hearing where cameras and recording were prohibited had roughly the same level of meaningful content as the wait for a royal baby announcement at the Lindo Wing. Across US networks, talking heads killed time by parsing the arrangement of Donald Trump’s face in a photograph from the courtroom, variously noting that he looked “sombre”, “livid”, and “unhappy to be here”. Then again, you presume he looked about the same at the birth of his children.

In his sketch, David Smith reflected on the ambiguity of his appearance, writing: “For his millions of critics in blue America, this was the face of a criminal defendant at his moment of reckoning … But his millions of fans in red America will have seen something else.” Either way, here’s a guide to how the afternoon unfolded.

The charges

Alvin BraggPin
Alvin Bragg Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

During the weeks of fevered speculation in the build-up to yesterday’s charges, the focus has tended to be on payments made by Trump to Michael Cohen, his then-lawyer, in the run-up to the 2016 election. Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg (above) says the payments were reimbursements for hush money paid to Stormy Daniels in return for staying quiet about an alleged affair, but were represented as a retainer due for legal services.

Those payments were the key part of the case against Trump that was unsealed yesterday – but there was much more detail on supporting evidence, and allegations concerning two other hush money payments made during the campaign, to a doorman who claimed (without foundation) that Trump had a child out of wedlock, and to Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who also alleged an affair.

You can read the indictment here, and Bragg’s narrative summary of the allegations here. Here are a few of the key points:

Trump faces 34 separate felony counts of falsifying business records. Each charge relates to an alleged false description of the reason for a payment to Cohen in records like invoices, ledger entries, and stubs for checks signed personally by Trump. Falsifying business records is the lowest category of felony in New York state. While it could theoretically attract a four-year prison sentence, most analysts think that is unlikely.

Trump has denied knowledge of any hush money scheme. But the indictment describes an audio recording of Trump speaking about the alleged payment for McDougal. It says: “The Defendant asked, ‘So what do we got to pay for this? One fifty?’ and suggested paying by cash. When Lawyer A disagreed, the Defendant then mentioned payment by check.”

There has been speculation that Trump could argue that any payments were made with his general reputation in mind rather than the outcome of the election. But the indictment says that Trump told Cohen to delay the Stormy Daniels payment until after the vote, reasoning that if they could do so, “they could avoid paying altogether, because at that point it would not matter if the story became public.”

The courtroom

President Donald Trump sits with his attorneys inside the courtroom.Pin
President Donald Trump sits with his attorneys inside the courtroom Photograph: Getty Images

Trump barely spoke in the courtroom, Hugo Lowell reported, merely saying “not guilty” to the charges and “I know” when told he could be removed if he was disruptive. The brief hearing was lively nonetheless, with perhaps the most notable aspect outside of the charges themselves a discussion of the former president’s conduct in social media posts about Bragg and his office. (He has called Bragg an “animal”, and posted a picture of himself holding a baseball bat next to a picture of the prosecutor.)

One of Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche, said that Trump was “absolutely frustrated, upset and believes there is a great injustice happening with him being in this courtroom today”, the New York Daily News reported.

The judge told Blanche he did not share the view that those feelings justified Trump’s rhetoric. He declined to place a gagging order on Trump, but he urged Trump and witnesses in the case to avoid making statements “with the potential to incite violence and civil unrest”, the New York Times reported. Nonetheless, at Mar-a-Lago a few hours later, Trump attacked Bragg, judge Juan Merchan, and both of their wives. Meanwhile, Stormy Daniels tweeted that she was drinking champagne.

The circus

Marjorie Taylor Greene.Pin
Marjorie Taylor Greene Photograph: Stefan Jeremiah/AP

“He wasn’t swinging a baseball bat at anyone’s head,” one of Trump’s lawyers, Joe Tacopina, said outside court afterwards, recalling that old adage: if you have to explain that your client wasn’t swinging a baseball bat at anyone’s head, you’re probably losing. Tacopina’s chaotic appearance before reporters was in keeping with the rest of a surreal afternoon outside the courthouse, which Adam Gabbatt summarises pithily in this very entertaining piece: “There was a guy in a banana suit, and another in a witch’s hat, and the Naked Cowboy”. But there was none of the violence which Trump claimed to fear was inevitable.

Because Trump did not appear before the throngs of protesters, Adam writes, the scene “was all a bit of an anti-climax” for the massed ranks of reporters who were also there. But there was plenty of eccentricity on show, like the Trump supporter who ranted about the Pope, the deep state, and “the bitch” who lived in Switzerland, who, she elaborated, was the devil.

Among the others seeking a moment in the limelight was the hard right MAGA congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (above). She compared Trump to Nelson Mandela and Jesus, which feels like a stretch.

Where the scene inside and outside the courthouse lacked in material, Trump’s campaign was not above inventing it. His team “sent out a fundraising email selling T-shirts with a mocked-up mugshot of Trump and the legend: ‘Not guilty’,” David Smith wrote, before noting that in reality, no mugshot was taken.

What happens next

Donald Trump.Pin
Donald Trump Photograph: John Nacion/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

Trump attorney Jim Trusty recently told CNN that pre-trial motions would be the next phase of the case, with the former president’s lawyers likely to file several motions to dismiss the case. Trump is due back in court on December 4, when the judge is likely to rule on those claims.

If those motions fail, the case will stretch on for much longer. Prosecutors have suggested that the trial could begin in January 2024, while the defence has proposed spring of the same year.

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Other, more serious cases Trump potentially faces could move more quickly. Regardless, an early 2024 trial would place this one slap in the middle of the next presidential campaign – and suggests how consequential it could be for Trump’s prospects of returning to the Oval Office, whatever the verdict turns out to be.

What else we’ve been reading

A Ring doorbell camera is displayed outside a home in Wolcott, Conn., on July 16, 2019.Pin
A Ring doorbell camera is displayed outside a home in Wolcott, Conn., on July 16, 2019. Photograph: Jessica Hill/AP
  • Almost every household item now has a “smart” counterpart: kettles, doorbells, fridges. It’s nothing new, but Coco Khan takes a look at the growing reports of vindictive, potentially dangerous, men using this smart tech to terrorise their partners. Nimo

  • Not a reading but a listening pick today: the Guardian’s Cotton Capital podcast launched this week, with the project’s editor Maya Wolfe-Robinson and a range of experts painstakingly examining the links between Manchester, our paper – originally the Manchester Guardian – and the transatlantic slave trade. Hannah J Davies, deputy editor, newsletters

  • Notre Dame is a Catholic private university in Indiana, the first state to try to enact an almost total abortion ban when Roe v Wade was overturned. In the Cut (£), Andrea González-Ramírez spoke to Prof Tamara Kay, a pro-choice rights academic, who says that as she endured a ruthless harassment campaign over her views, her employer did nothing. Nimo

  • “It was a magical collaboration”: 45 years on from its cinematic release, Ammar Kalia has compiled an oral history of the critical flop turned cult classic, Grease. Hannah

  • Nesrine Malik’s interview with Prof Arline Geronimus provided a fascinating insight into how racism, misogyny, homophobia and other axes of oppression can abjectly affect people’s physical health and can lead to “premature ageing, chronic conditions and early death”. Nimo


Curtis Jones of Liverpool chases Ngolo Kante of ChelseaPin
Curtis Jones of Liverpool chases Ngolo Kante of Chelsea Photograph: Javier García/REX/Shutterstock

Football | A 0-0 draw with Liverpool will keep Chelsea in the bottom half of the Premier League table. Jonathan Liew wrote that “this was simply Boehly fundamentalism taken to its purest, most logical conclusion” and asked: “How do you spend £600m on new players and forget to buy a goalscorer?”. Meanwhile, a late 2-1 win for Aston Villa leaves Leicester in the relegation zone. Leeds earned a vital 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest, while Brighton secured a 2-0 away victory against Bournemouth.

Boxing | British boxer and former world champion, Amir Khan, has been banned from all sport for two years after a test revealed that Khan had ostarine, a banned performance-enhancing drug, in his system on the night he lost to rival Kell Brook in Manchester last year.

Rugby league | 100 former rugby league players have launched legal proceedings against the Rugby Football League (RFL), claiming the governing body failed to take reasonable action to protect them from brain injuries. Many of the players involved in the action have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable CTE.

The front pages

Guardian front pagePin
Photograph: Guardian

A selection of the world’s media coverage of Donald Trump’s court appearance in New York is available here. The story also dominates UK front pages on Wednesday. The Guardian runs with the headline “Trump pleads not guilty to 34 charges in hush-money case”. The Financial Times has “Trump enters not guilty plea to 34 counts on day of drama in New York”. The Mail characterises it as “Trump’s ‘hush money plot to bury scandals’”.

The Times and Telegraph keep it simple with “Trump in the dock” and “Trump under arrest” respectively. The i channels Hollywood with “Trump: the reckoning”, while the Mirror says, “Trump in the eye of the Stormy”.

Finally the Sun leads with the news that the palace has dropped “Camilla’s Consort title on Coronation invitation”, under the headline “Our new Queen”.

Today in Focus

Ofsted protestPin
Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Why headteachers are fighting back against Ofsted inspections

The death of headteacher Ruth Perry after a devastating report from schools watchdog Ofsted has prompted a growing backlash. Michelle Sheehy, headteacher of Millfield primary school in the West Midlands, explains why

Cartoon of the day | Martin Rowson

Martin Rowson cartoonPin
Illustration: Martin Rowson/The Guardian

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

An aperiodic monotile never repeats a formation, no matter how long the pattern.Pin
An aperiodic monotile never repeats a formation, no matter how long the pattern. Photograph: David Smith, Joseph Samuel Myers, Craig S. Kaplan, and Chaim Goodman-Strauss, 2023

In our bathrooms or entryways and in mosaics, we generally see tile patterns that repeat in a predictable pattern. But mathematicians have long wondered whether there is a shape that can be arranged in a tile form, interlocking with itself forever, without it creating a repeating pattern. This shape would be called an aperiodic monotile, or an “Einstein” shape (which roughly translates in German to “one shape” as well as bearing a resemblance to the name of the theoretical physicist).

Now, the visual mystery has been solved by a hobbyist, David Smith, from east Yorkshire, who discovered a 13-sided shape that has been called “the hat”. In a pretty remarkable development after his initial finding, Smith then landed on another shape that did the same job – and looks a bit like a turtle.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.

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