Donald Trump has boarded a jet for his home in Florida after he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in Manhattan.
The former US president arrived at the courthouse in Lower Manhattan at around 2.15pm local time on Tuesday 4 April for his arraignment and hearing, where the full extent of his charges were revealed. He was fingerprinted and held before entering the courtroom.
It comes after he was indicted in connection to allegations of falsified business records to cover the payment of alleged hush money to former porn star Stormy Daniels. He is accused of directing three different instances of hush money payments to cover up alleged affairs in the run up to the 2016 presidential election, which he would go on to win.
Judge Juan Merchan unsealed the indictment ‘People of the State of New York against Donald J. Trump, Indictment No. 71543-23’ while Trump and his lawyers were in the court. During his time in court, Trump - who spoke personally to give his plea - was warned about his use of language and content of his social media posts, however he has not had a gag order put on him.
In posts made to his Truth Social account ahead of the hearing, the former president called the judge “highly partisan” and labelled him a “Trump hater” who has a bias again his family. Directly before his hearing as he travelled to the courthouse, Trump posted: “Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”
Protesters from both sides of the political axis demonstrated outside the courthouse. Prominent Republican figures such as Majorie Taylor Greene were part of those assembled to back Trump, competing over the noise of anti-Trump protesters.
What has Donald Trump been accused of?
According to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump faces charges of falsifying New York business records to “conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public”. He added that the false statements caused others to also make false statements.
Bragg released a statement following the hearing, saying: “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.
“As the Statement of Facts describes, the trail of money and lies exposes a pattern that, the People allege, violates one of New York’s basic and fundamental business laws.”
Bragg also alleged that Trump, Micheal Cohan and executives at American Media Inc. agreed to a “catch and kill” scheme, which aimed to “buy and suppress negative information” about the businessman in the run up to the 2016 election. He added that shell companies were set up to make these payments, with three payments made to people claiming to hold such information about the then soon-to-be president, including Stormy Daniels.
Trump has claimed that he paid Cohan for “legal services” in 2016, a piece of information Bragg says is “not true”. Cohan previously hit the headlines after revealing that he had paid Ms Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an affair with Trump prior to the election - Trump denies ever having a sexual relationship with the former porn star.
While falsifying business records are normally considered to be a misdemeanor, Bragg defended his office’s decision to upgrade the charges to felony level. He said that it was upgraded as Trump had allegedly attempted to conceal criminal conduct, specifically breaches of New York election laws.
Joe Tacopina, another one of Trump’s lawyers, spoke to reporters outside the court house after the hearing. He said that the claims made in the indictment showed “that the rule of law died in this country”.
He said: “While everyone is not above the law, no one is below it either. And if this man’s name was not Donald J. Trump, there is no scenario we’d all be here today.”
Trump was released following the hearing, with the next in-person session set for 4 December 2023. He will return back to Mar-a-Lago, his home in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is expected to give a public statement on the charges.