Donald Trump claims election interference hours after arraignment

Former President 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 U.S. election to suppress publication of their sexual encounters with him.

Prosecutors in Manhattan accused Trump, the first sitting or former U.S. president to face criminal charges, of trying to conceal a violation of election laws during his successful 2016 campaign.

"Not guilty," Trump, 76, said when asked by the judge in court how he pleaded. Wearing a dark blue suit and red tie, Trump sat, subdued, with his hands folded at the defense table flanked by his lawyers.

The front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination in 2024, Trump responded with answers like "yes" when the judge asked him if he understood a right. At one point, the judge put his hand to his ear as if to prompt an answer.

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 misdemeanor 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.

The two women in the case are adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.


Prosecutors during the arraignment said Trump made a series of social media posts, including one threatening "death and destruction" if he was charged. The judge asked the parties to "please refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest."

On a cool and sunny early spring day in New York, Trump supporters and detractors before the arraignment were separated by barricades set up by police to try to keep order, though there were some confrontations.

Trump said nothing as he entered the courtroom or when he left roughly an hour later.

He flew home to Florida where he addressed family, friends and supporters at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach on Tuesday night, delivering a litany of grievances against investigators and prosecutors and rival politicians.

He described the New York prosecution as election interference.

"I never thought anything like this could happen in America," Trump said. "The only crime that I've committed has been to fearlessly defend our nation against those who seek to destroy it."

Trump faces a separate criminal probe by a county prosecutor in Georgia into whether he unlawfully tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the state. He also faces two U.S. Justice Department investigations led by a special counsel into attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and his handling of classified documents after leaving office.

"They can't beat us at the ballot box so they try to beat us through the law," Trump said.

Earlier in the day, Trump posted on social media: "Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL - WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can't believe this is happening in America."

Manhattan District Attorney Bragg's team appears to have presented a solid case, said Adam Kaufmann, a defense lawyer who previously oversaw prosecutions in Manhattan.

"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.

Jeremy Saland, another former prosecutor, cautioned that prosecutors know they "have a very long road ahead with these charges" because they will have to prove to a jury that Trump intended to break election law even though he is not criminally charged with doing so.


Justice Juan Merchan set the next hearing for Dec. 4. Legal experts said a trial may not even get underway for a year, and indictment or even a conviction will not legally prevent Trump from running for president.

"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."

Bragg, a Democrat who pursued the case and has been accused by Trump and other Republicans of targeting him for political reasons, defended the charges.

"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 told a news conference.

The grand jury convened by Bragg that indicted Trump heard evidence about a $130,000 payment made to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006.

The former publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, offered to look out for negative stories during Trump's campaign, prosecutors said. American Media Inc, its parent company, paid McDougal $150,000 to buy the rights to her story but then kept it secret. It also paid a former Trump Tower doorman $30,000 to buy the rights to an untrue story about a child Trump had allegedly fathered out of wedlock.

Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he coordinated with Trump on payments to Daniels and McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for his payment to Daniels.

Trump's reimbursement checks to a lawyer for the suppression payments falsely stated that the money was for a "retainer agreement," prosecutors said. The indictment accused Trump of falsifying his real estate company's books with the intent to defraud.

The false records included invoices from Cohen, entries in a ledger for Trump maintained by the Trump Organization, and check stubs, according to the indictment.

One element of the charges is a method known as "catch and kill" used by some media outlets to bury damaging information.

Bragg's office did not charge Trump with violating election laws.

"Under New York state law, it is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud and intent to conceal another crime. That is exactly what this case is about - 34 false statements made to cover up other crimes," Bragg said.

 Former U.S. President Donald Trump cast himself as a politically persecuted martyr in the wake of what he called a “ridiculous indictment” on felony charges of falsifying business records.

The setting for the historic day was New York City, which is home to Trump’s business empire. But after surrendering to authorities and appearing before a judge to hear the criminal case against him, Trump retreated to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where he was welcomed home by throngs of political supporters.

Trump gave a bombastic, complaint-filled speech that touched not only on Tuesday’s charges but on the entirety of his legal woes, which the candidate for the Republican presidential nomination is attempting to turn to his political advantage.

“The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” Trump told the crowd.

In a 30-minute address, he railed against the “racist” Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg; against the “Trump-hating” judge overseeing the case, Juan Merchan (as well as his wife and daughter); against a “fake case” of election interference being built against him in Georgia; and against “radical left lunatic” special prosecutor Jack Smith, who is investigating allegations that Trump mishandled classified documents.

Trump said the litany of abuse he is facing shows that the American justice system has become “lawless.”

“They can’t beat us at the ballot box, so they try and beat us through the law. That’s the country in which we live, however, right now,” he said. “The U.S.A. is a mess.”

Trump’s Tuesday night remarks were a great contrast from the silent, stony-faced demeanor he presented earlier in the day in Manhattan as he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts.

The political assessment has been made countless times before that Trump is, was, or has been out of control.

His arrest, booking, and appearance as a criminal defendant make it objectively true, perhaps for the first time. The fate of a man is often viewed as being above the law and larger than life now lies in the hands of criminal lawyers and a judge.

“He’s frustrated. He’s upset,” his lawyer, Joe Tacopina, told reporters outside the courthouse. “But you know what? He’s motivated and it’s not going to slow him down.”

The charges laid against Trump are for what amounts to a coverup, one that allegedly has its roots in a meeting eight years ago, in 2015.

That’s when Trump, the head of the National Enquirer tabloid, and lawyer Michael Cohen cooked up a plan to “catch and kill” politically damaging information that might sink Trump’s bid for the White House in 2016, according to a statement of facts released by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

There was $30,000 (U.S.) allegedly paid to silence a doorman shopping the news of a Trump child who had been born out of wedlock. Another $150,000 to silence model Karen McDougal, who was selling the story of her affair with Trump.

And, most notably, another $130,000 was paid out days before the Nov. 8, 2016, election to silence Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, for her own Trump kiss-and-tell tale.

The alleged crime at the heart of the case against Trump — falsifying business records — was allegedly formalized in the Oval Office, in February 2017, a few weeks after Trump took possession of the White House.

There, he and Cohen allegedly agreed to a “repayment arrangement” that would reimburse the lawyer for the money he had paid to the porn star, prosecutors allege. Those repayments, made throughout 2017, were fictitiously and illegally recorded 34 separate times, as payments for legal services rendered.

While falsifying business records is normally a minor offense in New York state, it is elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony crime when it is done in order to commit or conceal another crime.

“That is exactly what this case is about,” said Bragg. “Thirty-four false statements made to cover up other crimes.”

He told reporters that the payments to Daniels to protect Trump’s political standing violated federal campaign contribution limits and also breached a state law that prohibits the conspiracy to promote a political candidate by unlawful means.

Some political and legal analysts have cast the case against Trump as a novel application and interpretation of the law — particularly questioning whether it is appropriate and feasible to mix-and-match state- and federal-level laws in a single indictment.

But Bragg expressed confidence in the legal foundations of the case and said that white-collar financial crimes are the “bread and butter” of his office’s work.

“This is the business capital of the world,” he said. “We regularly do cases involving false business statements. The bedrock and basis for business integrity and a well-functioning business marketplace are true and accurate record-keeping. That’s the charge that’s brought here.”

But another of Trump’s lawyers argued outside the courthouse Tuesday that Bragg was conducting a “political persecution” of the former president.

“Today’s unsealing of this indictment shows that the rule of law died in this country because while everyone is not above the law, no one is below it either,” said Todd Blanche. “If this man’s name was not Donald J. Trump, there is no scenario that we’d all be here today.”

The strength or weakness of the case against Trump will be exposed in the months to come. But with the Georgia election interference case against Trump also at the grand jury phase, the New York case may be just the first drop in a coming legal storm.

What’s significant now is how he weathers this new political atmosphere, whether there are new voting blocs who can be convinced to back an alleged criminal to occupy the White House, or whether Republicans turn up their collars and seek the shelter of an alternative candidate.

The indictment against former United States President Donald Trump was unsealed in a New York City court on Tuesday, revealing 34 felony counts against the former Republican leader.

The 13-page document contained the latest revelations in a hush-money probe led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and it cements Trump’s status as the first US president in history to face criminal charges. end of list

Throughout the day, all eyes were on Trump, as he navigated protesters on the stoop of his Trump Tower skyscraper to get to the courthouse and be processed into the criminal justice system.

Here are five key takeaways from the historic court proceedings — and Trump’s reaction once he returned home to his Florida resort.

A close-up of Trump in a blue suit and red tie
Former US President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower on April 3, ahead of Tuesday’s court hearing [Yuki Iwamura/AP Photo]

Trump’s much-anticipated surrender was relatively muted

A little after 1:00pm Eastern Time (17:00 GMT), the former president left his penthouse residence at Trump Tower to head to Lower Manhattan for his court date.

He waved to supporters as he made his commute, arriving at the Manhattan Criminal Court shortly thereafter. There was no perp walk, no handcuffs, and no mug shot.

After he was fingerprinted and processed, an uncharacteristically quiet Trump sat between his lawyers to hear the charges laid against him. He pleaded not guilty to all 34 felony counts.

At one point during the proceedings, New York Judge Juan Merchan warned Trump against becoming “disruptive”. Trump acknowledged the judge’s remarks.

The court appearance took less than an hour. Trump departed in his motorcade without stopping to speak to the press.

Daniels, with long blonde hair, leans slightly, and holds a black-t-shirt up (most of which is cut off by the camera) looking into the camera
A payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels is at the centre of the hush-money probe in New York [File: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

Charges go beyond Stormy Daniels's payment

At Trump’s arraignment, the indictment against the ex-president was unsealed, revealing 34 felony charges of falsifying business records.

The Manhattan grand jury’s investigation was previously thought to center around $130,000 allegedly paid to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, to buy her silence in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.

At the time, Daniels claimed she and then-presidential candidate Trump had an extramarital affair.

But the Manhattan District Attorney’s office unveiled a much broader scope in its charges, accusing the former president of “repeatedly and fraudulently” falsifying records to conceal “damaging information from the voting public”.

It described alleged “catch and kill” schemes, accusing Trump of collaborating with the head of American Media Inc (AMI) to buy and suppress coverage that might blemish his public image.

Among the stories allegedly suppressed were that of a doorman, who claimed to know of a child fathered out of wedlock, and that of an affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

A woman holds up a hand-drawn sign showing Trump behind bars
Demonstrators supporting Trump’s prosecution gather outside the Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

No repeat of the January 6 violence

Outside the Trump Tower skyscraper and the Manhattan Criminal Court, hundreds of protesters gathered to voice their support either for the prosecution or for Trump.

But aside from some minor clashes between the different camps, the demonstrations ultimately ended peacefully, despite lingering concerns about political violence following the 2021 Capitol attack.

That incident saw Trump supporters launch a deadly assault on the seat of the US Congress on January 6, 2021, as a joint session was underway to certify the results of the 2020 presidential elections.

Trump had been accused of riling up his supporters prior to the attack. And ahead of Tuesday’s arraignment, he took to social media to once again call on his backers to rise up on his behalf.

“The far & away leading Republican candidate and former president of the United States of America will be arrested,” he wrote in all caps on Truth Social on March 18. “Protest, take our nation back!”

However, with 35,000 New York City police officers in uniform for Tuesday’s arraignment, no significant violence was reported, though Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene claimed to be “swarmed” by anti-Trump protesters.

Marjorie Taylor Greene in aviator sunglasses, speaking into the mouthpiece of a bullhorn
Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks outside the Manhattan Criminal Court ahead of Trump’s appearance [Caitlin Ochs/Reuters]

Political persecution or holding the powerful to account?

Reactions to Trump’s arraignment were split along party lines, with Republicans decrying an abuse of the legal system and Democrats calling for the powerful to be held to account.

“No one is above the law, no matter how rich or powerful they are,” Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib said in a statement, repeating a common refrain among Democrats.

But Republicans expressed outrage at what they considered a weaponization of the legal system for political purposes. Many echoed Trump’s claims that the prosecution was intended to derail the Republican leader’s bid for reelection in 2024.

“Put aside for a moment whether you like Trump or don’t like him, whether you’re for him or not for him. Today is a bad day for all of us. Today American politics crosses a line that it’s never going to come back from,” said Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who faced Trump as a Republican candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

“After today, every prosecutor in America who wants to make a name for themselves now is going to have permission to basically go after someone in the other party.”

Trump at a podium that reads: "Text Trump to 88022, Trump, Make America Great Again"
Former President Donald Trump addresses supporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday, after his arraignment [Marco Bello/Reuters]

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago speech goes broad, not specific

Ending his day at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump held a speech in the resort’s ballroom for supporters and allies, including My Pillow CEO Michael Lindell and Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.

But rather than addressing the specifics of Tuesday’s indictment, Trump’s remarks covered a broad range of familiar complaints — from the decline he perceives in US society to the biased treatment he allegedly receives from prosecutors.

“Incredibly, we are now a failing nation. We are a nation in decline. And now these radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement. We can’t let that happen,” he told the crowd.

But while he talked about everything from his alleged mishandling of confidential documents to the Georgia election probe, Trump reserved particular criticism for Manhattan District Attorney Bragg and the judge in Tuesday’s proceedings, Merchan.

“I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris,” he said, referring to the Democratic vice president.

The coverup is worse than the crime, the expression goes. And in the hush money case against former President Donald Trump, prosecutors say the coverup made the crime worse.

In an indictment unsealed Tuesday, prosecutors say the 45th president falsified records about three hush-money payments in order to keep potentially damaging stories from coming to light as he campaigned for the presidency. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said it was his effort to cover up crimes related to the 2016 election that allowed prosecutors to elevate the charges to felonies.

The indictment, however, raises many thorny issues about state and federal law that could provide openings for the defense to attack the charges to try to get them tossed before the case even gets to trial.

“The bottom line is that it’s murky,” said Richard Hasen, an expert in election law and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles law school. “And the district attorney did not offer a detailed legal analysis as to how they can do this, how they can get around these potential hurdles. And it could potentially tie up the case for a long time.”

Trump has railed against the charges, saying he did nothing wrong and the case is political persecution. In remarks from his Mar-a-Lago home just a few hours after his court appearance, he said, “This fake case was brought only to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election and it should be dropped immediately.”

In the end, the case isn’t about the tawdry details of the hush-money payments. It isn’t about the porn actor — Stormy Daniels — or Trump’s acrimonious relationship with his onetime lawyer-turned-government witness, Michael Cohen.

It’s about a presidential candidate using his money and influence to silence potentially damaging stories that might make voters choose another candidate, particularly as Trump’s reputation was suffering at the time from comments he’d made about women.

The 34 counts of falsifying business records would normally be misdemeanors, lower-level charges that would not normally result in prison time. But they were bumped up to felonies — which carry up to four years behind bars — because, Bragg says, they were done in an effort to commit or conceal other crimes.

New York DA lays out case against Trump
Donald Trump conspired to illegally influence the 2016 election through a series of hush money payments designed to silence claims that he feared would be harmful to his candidacy, New York prosecutors said Tuesday in unsealing a historic 34-count felony indictment. (Apr 04)
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The $130,000 payment to Daniels exceeded the federal cap on campaign contributions, Bragg said. He also cited a New York state election law that makes it a crime to promote a candidate by unlawful means.

“That is what this defendant did when he falsified business records in order to conceal unlawful efforts to promote his candidacy, and that is why we are here,” one of the case prosecutors, Chris Conroy, told the judge Tuesday.

Prosecutors filed a “statement of facts” that told their story of a scheme to protect Trump’s presidential prospects by buying and suppressing unflattering information about him. Still, some legal observers were surprised that the indictment itself wasn’t more specific about how each of the charges was elevated to a felony.

“There are an awful lot of dots here which it takes a bit of imagination to connect,” said Richard Klein, a Touro Law Center criminal law professor. Bragg said the indictment doesn’t specify the potential underlying crimes because the law doesn’t require it. But given the likelihood of Trump’s lawyers challenging it, “you’d think they’d want to be on much firmer ground than some of this stuff,” said Klein, a former New York City public defender.

Hasen said it’s not clear whether candidates for federal office can be prosecuted in cases involving state election laws. The defense may also argue the case can’t be brought in state court if it involves a federal election law.

Prosecutors, however, also alluded to another accusation involving tax law: that Trump’s scheme included a plan to mischaracterize the payments to Cohen as income to New York tax authorities.

“They did talk about tax crimes, and I think that could be potentially more compelling for the jury,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said on ABC News. “It’s a safer bet than the campaign finance crimes.”

While the prosecution’s case is unusual, it’s not unwinnable, experts said.

Bragg is “going to bring in witnesses, he’s going to show a lot of documentary evidence to attempt to demonstrate that all these payments were in furtherance of the presidential campaign,” said Jerry H.​ Goldfeder, a veteran election lawyer in New York and the director of Fordham Law School’s Voting Rights and Democracy Project.

“It remains to be seen if he can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” Goldfeder said. But, he added, “Do not underestimate District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and do not overestimate Mr. Trump.”

Trump’s lawyers have painted Trump as a victim of extortion who had to make the payments to prevent false and embarrassing information from coming out. But they say the payments had nothing to do with the campaign.

It’s similar to an argument made by former Sen. John Edwards, the Democrat accused of funneling nearly $1 million in under-the-table campaign contributions to hide his pregnant lover during his 2008 run for president. Edwards had argued that the payments were a personal matter, intended to keep things secret from his wife. A jury acquitted the Democrat on one charge and deadlocked on other counts. He wasn’t retried.

The New York case is just one of many legal worries for Trump. Georgia prosecutors are also investigating Trump’s attempts by Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. And federal prosecutors are investigating whether classified documents were criminally mishandled at Trump’s Florida home, as well as efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the results of the presidential election.

“Bringing a failed prosecution is just going to enable him to claim that it’s a witch hunt,” Hasen said of Trump. “And it might convince some people that all of the potential criminal cases against Trump are full of spurious claims, whereas I think the other potential cases involving classified documents, the 2020 election, seem much stronger both legally and factually.”

Trump’s lawyers are certain to attack the credibility of Cohen, a convicted liar who is far from the ideal prosecution witness. The disbarred attorney has said that Trump directed him to arrange the payment of hush money to fend off damage to his White House bid.

But Cohen has also admitted in court to lying before, and Trump’s lawyers will no doubt try to use that to their advantage. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating the Moscow Trump Tower project on Trump’s behalf during his presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty in a parallel federal case to campaign finance violations and other charges in connection to the hush-money payments.

After federal prosecutors declined to file charges against Trump in the hush money case, a former law enforcement official told The Associated Press that prosecutors harbored concerns over the reliability of Cohen as a witness. And federal prosecutors believed it was far from clear that Trump could be convicted of a campaign finance crime, even if a jury believed Cohen’s allegations that he directed the hush-money payments.

Trump has already indicated may try to have the case moved out of Manhattan, writing on social media Tuesday that it should be held in Staten Island. He called the borough — which is more conservative than the rest of New York City — “A VERY FAIR AND SECURE LOCATION.”

The former president may also argue that the statute of limitations — which is five years for most felonies in New York — has run out because the hush-money payments and Cohen’s reimbursements happened before then.

There were some extensions during the pandemic, and state law also can stop the clock when a potential defendant is continuously outside the state. Trump visited New York rarely over the four years of his presidency and now lives mostly in Florida and New Jersey. His lawyers could question whether the timeout applies to elected officials serving in Washington.

“This case has some very good issues for the defense to litigate,” said Duncan Levin, a New York City defense lawyer, and former Manhattan prosecutor. “It’s not an open-and-shut case by any means.”

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