Former United States President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records at a New York court on Wednesday, 5 April.
He had turned himself in to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to be formally charged after being indicted by a New York grand jury on 31 March for allegedly covering up payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016.
However, he was neither handcuffed nor photographed for a mugshot, as is the norm for those indicted. However, his fingerprints were secured.
In his first public statement after he pleaded not guilty, Trump said while addressing supporters at his Florida home, "Our country is going to hell."
"I never thought anything like this could happen in America. The only crime I have committed to fearlessly defend our nation," he added, while being greeted by cheers from supporters.
He further alleged that the "fake case" was brought only to "interfere" in the 2024 US presidential election, of which Trump is a frontrunner.
Earlier in the day, Trump had taken to his Social platform to say, "Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL - WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can't believe this is happening in America."
If you're unfamiliar with the Donald Trump-Stormy Daniels case, click on the tab below to read more about the scandal.
The Trump-Daniels Scandal
Manhattan District Attorney Albin Bragg’s office had launched an investigation into a $130,000 payment from Trump’s estranged former lawyer Micheal Cohen to Stormy Daniels, in exchange for her silence regarding a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump subsequently reimbursed the payment.
While the former president denied the encounter, it is alleged to have taken place with his current wife Melania Trump and just a few months after the birth of Barron, their son.
A BBC report claimed that since the payment reimbursing Cohen was recorded as “legal fees,” prosecutors may say this amounts to Trump falsifying business records.
Cohen joined the Trump Organization as an attorney in 2006, and was there till 2018, after which he was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion and other federal crimes.
An acclaimed member of the industry, Daniels said that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, after he promised to give her a place on his reality show ’The Apprentice.’
Trump and Daniels met twice more – though without getting intimate – and she eventually stopped taking his calls.
Reports claimed that Daniels attempted to sell the story several times, most promisingly in 2011, when Trump expressed interest in running for president, but the publication backed out after Cohen threatened legal action.
But after Trump launched a formal campaign in 2016, a behind-the-scenes video from a TV show with Trump, where he described how he groped an actress on the show, led to widespread outrage and reignited Daniels’ chances of selling the story.
However, a concerned Trump posse was fearful of the Stormy Daniels story leaking amid the outrage and arranged the payment in exhume for Daniels’ silence through a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA).
In 2018, the story broke anyways, and Daniels subsequently claimed that she risked a million-dollar-fine for breaking the NDA but added that “it was very important to me to be able to defend myself.” In August that year, Cohen testified that the former president asked him to make the $130,000 payment.
Situation in New York
Before the arraignment, Trump was housed in Trump Tower. Subsequently, he was escorted to the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse by an eight-car motorcade of Secret Service agents, and and his lawyers, at 1:30 pm Eastern Time (11 pm IST).
While the journey from Trump’s New York City residence to the lower Manhattan courthouse is a 30-minute-drive, the former president arrived quicker, given that he will be escorted by a fleet of secret service and police and multiple road closures due to the arraignment.
Meanwhile, the police in New York were on high alert for Trump's court appearance and Secret Service agents were seen outside Trump Tower and the court in Lower Manhattan.
New York Mayor Eric Adams said that any person who is found violently protesting during Trump's arraignment will be "arrested and held accountable, no matter who you are."
"While there may be some rabble-rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow our message is clear, is simple: 'control yourselves'," the mayor said.
Meanwhile, large crowds of supporters gathered outside the Manhattan court, and a rally is being organised by Republican House Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Thousands of NYPD officers continue to remain on standby, even though violent scenes are not expected.
What are the Charges Against Trump?
Factually, the DA’s case against Trump is straightforward. While the payment made by Cohen in exchange for Daniels’ silence is not illegal, the record of payment being noted as legal fees may create trouble for the former president.
Prosecutors say that the act amounts to falsifying business records, a misdemeanour – which is a criminal offence in New York.
The charges against the former US president include 11 counts involving checks, 11 involving monthly invoices that Cohen allegedly submitted to the company, and 12 involving entries in the general ledger of Trump's trust, The New York Times reported.
The prosecution also raised legal and ethical questions about the payment not being disclosed as a campaign contribution, or because campaign funding was used to make the payment.
While the decision on filing charges lies with DA Bragg, he set up the grand jury to investigate the presence of enough evidence to pursue a prosecution, and is the only one who is aware of the possibility and timing of an indictment.
While a conviction on a misdemeanour charge would result in a fine for Trump, a conviction on a felony charge may land Trump in prison for a maximum sentence of four years. However, experts quoted in several reports predicted that the possibility of a fine is greater, and that any prison time is extremely unlikely.Expand