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Donald Trump inside the courtroom PA

Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts linked to Stormy Daniels hush money

Trump is the first sitting or former American president to be criminally charged.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Apr 2023

DONALD TRUMP HAS pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts ahead of a trial that could begin as soon as January, as he became the first American president to be arrested on criminal charges.

The 34 felony counts of falsifying business records stem from three pre-election hush-money cases, prosecutors said.

Trump denied all the charges, which related to payments to keep people quiet including over an alleged affair with an adult film actress.

The 76-year-old former president is accused of falsifying business records including some that were allegedly mischaracterised for tax purposes.

“Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

Bragg described the alleged payments as a “catch-and-kill” scheme designed to quash negative potential revelations about Trump as he vied for the US presidency.

He told reporters this evening: “Manhattan is home to the country’s most significant business market. We cannot allow New York businesses to manipulate their records to cover up criminal conduct.”

Bragg vowed that he would not allow Trump to get away with lawbreaking: “These are felony crimes in New York State. No matter who you are we cannot and will not normalise serious criminal conduct,” he said.

“We today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law,” Bragg added.

The trial could potentially start as soon as January, Judge Juan Merchan said, meaning that Trump could be in a courtroom just as primary elections begin in the presidential race.

Trump’s lawyers, denouncing the allegations as “sad” and “boilerplate,” want the trial pushed back to the spring.

former-president-donald-trump-leaves-trump-tower-tuesday-april-4-2023-in-new-york-trump-came-to-new-york-to-face-charges-related-to-hush-money-payments-trump-is-facing-multiple-charges-of-falsify Alamy Alamy

“We’re going to fight it, we’re going to fight it hard,” attorney Todd Blanche said outside the court complex.

The indictment states that between August 2015 and December 2017, Trump “orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit [his] electoral prospects.”

“In order to execute the unlawful scheme, the participants violated election laws and made and caused false entries in the business records of various entities in New York.”

‘Kangaroo court’

Trump was not subjected to a “perp walk” — in which a defendant is escorted in handcuffs past media cameras.

But the former president was believed to have undergone the standard booking procedure of being fingerprinted.

He wrote on his Truth Social platform this afternoon: “THE RADICAL LEFT DEMOCRATS HAVE CRIMINALIZED THE JUSTICE SYSTEM.”

He also branded the legal proceedings a “kangaroo court”.

“Seems so SURREAL – WOW, they are going to ARREST ME.”

Trump is expected to speak at length later tonight, including at a campaign-style event after the native New Yorker flies back to his estate in Florida.

A few dozen Trump supporters and a smattering of anti-Trump demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse, outnumbered by the throngs of media personnel.

new-york-usa-4th-apr-2023-heavy-movement-of-press-corps-and-protesters-at-trump-tower-as-the-former-us-president-donald-j-trump-who-arrived-at-the-tower-on-monday-03-is-to-appear-at-manhattan Anti-Trump protesters at Trump Tower Alamy Alamy

After the arraignment, Trump is due to return straight to Florida, where he plans to deliver an evening speech.

Stormy Daniels

The most famous charges against Trump revolve around the investigation of $130,000 (€119,000) paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before Trump’s election win.

Trump’s former lawyer and aide Michael Cohen, who has since turned against his ex-boss, says he arranged the payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence about a tryst she says she had with Trump in 2006.

Trump, whose third wife Melania had recently given birth at the time, denies the affair.

Prosecutors also faulted Trump over a $30,000 (€27,000) payment made by the owner of a tabloid to keep quiet a doorman at Trump Tower over allegations that the former president had a child out of wedlock.

Trump is facing a series of separate criminal investigations at the state and federal level that could result in further – more serious – charges between now and Election Day.

They include his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state of Georgia, his handling of classified documents, and his possible involvement in the storming of the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021.

President Joe Biden, mindful that anything he might say could fuel Trump’s claim of a politically “weaponised” judicial system, is one of the few Democrats holding back over the indictment of his rival.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would “catch part of the news when he has a moment,” but insisted: “This is not something that’s a focus for him.”

Republicans meanwhile have largely rallied around Trump, including his rival in the party’s presidential primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who called the indictment “un-American.”

Legal woes

The New York case is just one of Trump’s legal headaches.

An independent federal prosecutor, Jack Smith, will decide whether or not to charge anyone alleged to have “unlawfully interfered with the transfer of power” on 6 January, 2021, after the 2020 election or during certification by Congress of the results.

A mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol seeking to stop that certification, shortly after Trump delivered a fiery speech nearby urging the crowd to “fight like hell.”

In explosive hearings separate from the Department of Justice probe, lawmakers argued Trump knew he lost the election yet pressed false claims of fraud.

They also presented evidence of alleged misconduct by Trump leading up to the insurrection, including accusations he attempted to co-opt government agencies into his bid to overturn the election results.

Federal prosecutors have obtained convictions of or guilty pleas from more than 500 people for participating in the uprising, but it remains unclear if Trump will face charges for any plotting or fomenting of the Capitol attack.

Smith will also decide on any charges in the ongoing investigation into classified documents found at Trump’s Florida home – and over possible obstruction of the probe.

An FBI search of Trump’s palatial Mar-a-Lago residence last August turned up classified documents taken when he left office in early 2021.

The raid was triggered by a review of records which Trump finally surrendered to authorities in January 2022.

The Justice Department began investigating after the 15 boxes were found to contain national defence information, including 184 documents marked as confidential, secret or top secret.

Trump is separately being investigated for pressuring officials in the southern swing state of Georgia to overturn Biden’s 2020 victory – including a taped phone call in which he asked a state official to “find” enough votes to reverse the result.

The top prosecutor in Georgia’s Fulton County, Fani Willis, has assembled a special grand jury that could see Trump facing conspiracy charges connected to election fraud and interference.

Last month the grand jury forewoman, in unusually public remarks, said the 23-member panel had recommended indictments of multiple people, including “certainly names that you would recognise.” She did not say whether Trump was among them.

In New York, meanwhile, the state attorney general Letitia James has filed a civil suit against Trump and three of his children, accusing them of fraud by overvaluing assets to secure loans and then undervaluing them to minimize taxes.

James is seeking $250 million in penalties as well as banning Trump and his children from serving as executives at companies in New York.

© AFP 2023

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