In Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday afternoon, former president Donald Trump filed a not-guilty plea to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records.
In a historic and first-ever court appearance, where Trump was arraigned before being placed under arrest, the former president turned himself in and heard the charges against him for the first time. Although the arraignment was routine, the case is now likely to affect Trump’s presidential candidacy in 2024 as he protects himself both in court and public.
A hush money scheme in which payments were made to women who claimed to have had extramarital encounters with Trump was used, according to the prosecution, by Trump to try to taint the 2016 election. He has refuted the relationships.
Prosecutors alleged that Trump participated in an illegal scheme to bury damaging material, including a $130,000 payment that was illegally ordered to be made by the defendant to cover up information that would have injured his campaign.
According to the charging documents, Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York company records to hide criminal conduct that concealed detrimental facts from the voting public throughout the 2016 presidential election.”
Tuesday’s uncovering of the grand jury’s indictment against Trump gave the public – and his legal team – the first information about the precise charges he will face.
Trump’s Republican allies quickly denounced the indictment, and even some legal experts were skeptical of the charges. Elie Honig, a senior legal analyst for CNN, stated that prosecutors will have to prove that Trump committed felonies rather than misdemeanors by showing how the fabricated records were used to cover up further crimes that weren’t mentioned in the indictment.
To raise this from a misdemeanor to a felony, you must demonstrate that those records were forged to conduct some other crime, a second offense, according to Honig. You heard the defense lawyers protest about that, I think, with clear reason.
At a media briefing after Trump’s arraignment, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg stated that the indictment did not list the specific crimes that Trump had broken because “the law does not so require.”
New York state election law – what makes it a crime to collude to promote a candidacy by illicit methods – is one rule that Bragg specifically mentioned as being broken during the conference by Trump. He also brought up breaches of a federal election statute that set contribution caps.
The proof will be “brought out in a public courtroom in central Manhattan,” according to Bragg.
The next hearing will take place in December
During the arraignment, Trump responded to the judge when instructed to do so and recorded a not-guilty plea.
In the courtroom, the former president’s voice was measured. He entered the courtroom slowly, looking at the reporters there and the judge as he spoke.
The 4 of December has indeed been chosen as the day for Trump’s next in-person hearing in New York.
In addition to the indictment, a 13-page “statement of facts” explained in simple terms how Trump is said to have committed crimes to aid his 2016 campaign for president.
The statement of facts states, “From August 2015 through December 2017, Defendant coordinated a plot with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by discovering and procuring unfavorable information about him to suppress its dissemination and boost Defendant’s political prospects.” To support Trump’s campaign for president, prosecutors described a “catch and kill scheme” to bury reports about him that were negative.
According to the indictment, each criminal accusation that Trump is dealing with relates to a particular entry in the financial records of the Trump organization
Trump is billed by Manhattan prosecutors with repeatedly making false entries in the company’s records.
CNN as well as other media outlets had asked the judge to allow them to broadcast the hearings, but he rejected their request on Monday night. Yet, before the hearing began, five still photographers were allowed to shoot pictures of Trump and the courtroom.
In Mar-a-Lago, Trump will respond.
Trump did not address the media on Tuesday, despite there having been some discussion for him doing so. Trump left the courtroom, hopped on an aircraft, and flew back to Palm Beach, Florida. He is expected to speak at an event at Mar-a-Lago Tuesday evening.
The indictment has been criticized by Trump as political persecution, and he has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Prosecutors handed the judge a packet of Trump’s social media postings during the arraignment and told the court that Trump was making threats with “irresponsible” social media posts, citing, in particular, his sharing of an article that highlighted a picture of Trump wanting to hold a baseball bat. This raised some of Trump’s comments.
The reply from Trump’s legal team was that he has First Amendment rights and that he was venting his anger at allegedly dishonest leaks about the indictment coming from the district attorney’s office. Trump’s legal team asserted that his social media posts were not harmful.
Judge Juan Merchan accepted Trump’s right to free speech but cautioned both parties against using their words or acts to stir up violence or social disorder. Merchan said he would have to examine the social media posts more closely if he were to see more of them.
No one asked for a gag order.
The first criminal allegations against Trump were brought by Bragg’s indictment, but the former president faces other potential legal issues as well: The investigation into Trump’s participation in the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, as well as the handling of secret materials at Mar-a-Lago, is still ongoing under the oversight of special counsel Jack Smith. A special grand jury in Fulton County has finished looking into efforts to rig Georgia’s 2020 election.