Donald Trump court case as it happened: defiant ex-President says US is ‘going to hell’ as he attacks case
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Trump flew back to Florida from New York after pleading not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records in the first degree in a Manhattan courthouse. The appearance marked the first time a former US President has faced criminal charges, which stem from hush money payments made ahead of his successful 2016 Presidential campaign to porn star Stormy Daniels.
The 74-year-old made a rousing speech to a crowd of some 500 loyal supporters in his Mar-a-Lago estate ballroom on Tuesday night where he portrayed himself as a political martyr. The crowd at Mar-a-Lago included supporters like failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and long-time ally Roger Stone. Trump’s wife, Melania, was absent from his side and was also not seen with him in New York.
Follow NationalWorld's live blog below for the latest updates, reaction and analysis on this extraordinary episode in US politics.
Donald Trump in court - live
Welcome to the Donald Trump court hearing live coverage
Welcome to NationalWorld's coverage of Donald Trump's criminal court hearing, the first of any former US President. The historic moment will unfold in a Manhattan courthouse at around 7.15pm BST or 2.15pm Eastern Time.
It will however be away from the television cameras. US media outlets petitioned Judge Juan Merchan to be able to film the arraignment, but he denied this. We will however see pictures of Trump in the courthouse, with five photographers allowed in before the hearing starts. We'll bring you all the latest updates, reaction and analysis on this live blog.
Timings for today
Donald Trump is due to arrive at the courthouse at 6.30am local time (11.30am BST) where he will have his fingerprints and mugshot taken. Investigators will complete the arrest paperwork, and formally book him in.
The former US President will then appear before a judge at 2.15pm local time (7.15pm BST) for his arraignments. The charges will be read out to him, and he will enter a plea - which is expected to be not guilty. A further court hearing or trial date will then be set.
Trump is due back at his Mar-a-Lago estate at 8.15pm local time (1.15am BST on Wednesday).
Why is Donald Trump in court?
We may not learn of the exact nature of the charges against Trump until the time of the hearing itself, as the indictment remains under seal, my colleague Alex Nelson reports. But they are believed to stem from the payments made to Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal to bury their claims of extramarital affairs with Trump.
Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 (£105,000) to keep her silent about what she said was a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier.
Cohen was then reimbursed by Trump’s company, the Trump Organisation, which also rewarded the lawyer with bonuses and extra payments logged internally as legal expenses. Over several months, Cohen said, the company paid him $420,000 (£340,000).
Earlier in 2016, Cohen also arranged for the publisher of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer to pay McDougal $150,000 (£121,000) to squelch her story of a Trump affair in a journalistically dubious practice known as “catch-and-kill”.
The payments to the women were intended to buy secrecy, but they backfired almost immediately as details of the arrangements leaked to the news media.
Paying a person “hush money” is not against the law, but it’s alleged that the former president recorded the payments as a business expense. In New York, it is illegal to falsify business records. This is normally categorised as a misdemeanour - which in the US is a non-indictable offence - however it is thought that as the hush money was related to Trump's 2016 Presidential campaign, prosecutors will link it to breaking electoral law. This means the false business record charge becomes a felony.
Who is Stormy Daniels - the woman at the heart of the case
Trump's criminal charges relate to hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 Presidential election, to try and keep quiet an alleged affair.
Born in 1979 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Daniels, real name is Stephanie Clifford, is an American adult film actress, director and writer, my colleague Alex Nelson writes. She started her career in the adult film industry in 2002, and has since appeared in over 150 adult films.
She has won several awards for her work in the adult film industry, including the AVN Award for Best Screenplay in 2010, and has also appeared in mainstream movies and TV shows.
She gained public attention in early 2018 for her alleged affair with Trump, which she claimed occurred in 2006 after they met at a celebrity golf tournament. The alleged affair became a matter of public interest during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, but it wasn’t until 2018 that Daniels went public with her account of the affair.
It was reported that Daniels had been paid $130,000 (£105,000) by Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, just before the 2016 presidential election, as part of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that prevented her from discussing the alleged affair.
However, Daniels later filed a lawsuit claiming that the NDA was invalid, and that she should be allowed to speak publicly about the alleged affair. This led to a legal battle between Daniels and Trump, with Trump denying the affair and claiming that the NDA was binding.
But in March 2019, Daniels’ lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge, who ruled that the case was moot because Trump and Cohen had agreed not to enforce the NDA.
At time of writing, Daniels is thought to have a net worth of around $1 million (£809,000), according to CelebrityNetWorth.
Criminal charges have boosted Trump's Republican poll numbers
Trump has reportedly gained a 26-point lead over his nearest Republican candidate for the presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, my colleague Heather Carrick reports.
In a piece on how Teflon-like Donald Trump somehow manages to dodge scandal after scandal, Heather writes:
The former president could be facing time in jail over the charges if found guilty. But, it’s looking increasingly likely that he could be running a 2024 presidential comeback campaign while facing criminal charges, or even from behind bars.
It seems completely ludicrous, the possibility of a serving President running the ‘Land of the Free’ from a jail cell. What is even more ludicrous however is his boost in the polls post-indictment.
Trump has reportedly gained a 26-point lead over his nearest Republican candidate for the presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis experienced a boost in popularity after the midterm elections, when Republican voters appeared to turn away from Trump-backed candidates in favour of less-volatile figures.
What has Donald Trump said so far?
Once news of his indictment broke, Donald Trump took to his social media platform Truth Social to respond. My colleague Imogen Howse reports that misspelling the word ‘indicted’, the 76-year-old said: “These Thugs and Radical Left Monsters have just INDICATED the 45th President of the United States of America, and the leading Republican Candidate, by far, for the 2024 Nomination for President.
“THIS IS AN ATTACK ON OUR COUNTRY THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE. IT IS LIKEWISE A CONTINUING ATTACK ON OUR ONCE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS. THE USA IS NOW A THIRD WORLD NATION, A NATION IN SERIOUS DECLINE. SO SAD!”
He is expected to make a futher statement to media late this evening (4 April), when he arrives back at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, after his arraignment.
Trump facing 34 felony counts - Yahoo
Donald Trump is set to be charged with 34 felony counts when the indictments are removed from seal, Yahoo News is reporting.
The charges will relate to allegations over the falsification of business records, which has been expected relating to the Stormy Daniels hush money payments.
Yahoo News says the source has stated Trump will not be put in handcuffs, placed in a jail cell or subjected to a mug shot.
New York City Police braced for protests
New York City police have cordoned off streets, thrown up metal barriers, and called in more officers as they brace for pro-Donald Trump protests outside Manhattan Criminal Courthouse, my colleague Imogen Howse reports.
Some of his most high-profile supporters have already announced their intention to demonstrate, with Republican lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene scheduled to speak at a rally in New York in protest against “this unprecedented abuse of our justice system and election interference.”
Meanwhile, on online forums - such as the ones where the January 6 attack on the US Capitol was planned - Trump enthusiasts have been debating how best to support his call to “Take Our Country Back.”
The New York Police Department (NYPD) has said there are no credible threats to the city, but a range of preparations - which are said to involve the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Secret Service - have been put in place in an attempt to best mitigate any potential fallout.
Roads surrounding the courthouse and Trump Tower have been blocked off with barricades, and there will be an increased police presence so that cops are on hand for crowd control. The Manhattan Criminal Courthouse will not be operating at usual capacity, so that officials and staff can focus on any issues surrounding Trump.
In a memo seen by NBC, NYPD officers were told to be prepared for “unusual disorder” - while in one obtained by local news channel PIX11, cops were told to all report for duty and patrol in uniform. The NYPD said in a statement: “The department remains ready and available to respond to protests and counter-protests.”
Outside of protests, another security issue law enforcement officials have to deal with is a surge of violent threats against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg - who Trump has attacked as a “degenerate psychopath that truly hates the USA”.
Bragg has been targeted with a series of racist attacks and death threats since he resurrected the criminal prosecution into Trump’s hush money payments, and last week, received a typewritten letter threatening him with assassination. The letter also contained a white powder, but the NYPD told Time that the substance was later found to be non-hazardous.
'Trump will plead not guilty himself'
Donald Trump is set to plead not guilty himself instead of his lawyers making the statement, the New York Times' Maggie Haberman reports. Haberman has reported on Trump for decades, and recently published a biography on him. She says he's also considering addressing the cameras before or after the arraignment.
George Santos arrives outside courthouse
US Congressman George Santos - the New York Republican representative - has arrived outside the court where Trump is scheduled to appear, the BBC reports.
Santos told a gaggle of reporters his constituents needed to see that "their representative supports the rule of law" and would stand up to Manhattan District Attorney (DA) Alvin Bragg. "I'm not here for the cameras, I'm here to support the president of the United States who's been unfairly attacked by a DA," he said.
The New York Times reported Santos made a long tour of Centre Street. Asked whether he would be flying to Mar-a-Lago tonight, Santos laughed. “Guys,” he said. "I don’t have a plane.”
Santos was heckled by the crowd for his admission of lying in his CV about his education and work experience prior to joining the party, as he arrived at the park where pro-Trump demonstrators are starting to gather.