Donald Trump pleads not guilty to criminal charges in hush-money case
Trump claims he is the victim of "political persecution" -- but is also using the court case to energize his support base and raise millions of dollars for his bid to reclaim the White House.
Former US president Donald Trump appears in court at the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on April 4, 2023. – Former US president Donald Trump arrived for a historic court appearance in New York on Tuesday, facing criminal charges that threaten to upend the 2024 White House race. (Photo by Andrew KELLY / POOL / AFP)
Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to criminal charges stemming from hush-money paid to a porn star before the 2016 election, at a historic court hearing in New York.
The 76-year-old Republican former president faces dozens of counts in the case, which threatens to upend the 2024 White House race.
Donald Trump’s historic court hearing
Trump entered a historic court hearing in New York Tuesday after becoming the first American president to be arrested on criminal charges, in extraordinary scenes playing out amid tight security and a global media frenzy.
With a stern glare, Trump was seen making his way into the courtroom in Manhattan without saying a word to waiting press, although he was expected to speak at length later including at a campaign-style event at his Florida estate.
In a spectacle relayed on live television — with rival protesters rallying outside — the hearing marks a watershed moment for the US criminal and political system, with the potential to upend the 2024 White House race in which Trump is currently the leading Republican nominee.
“Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME,” Trump posted on his Truth Social app as he headed to the courthouse from Trump Tower, where he spent the night after flying from Florida.
“Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”
The twice-impeached Republican is the first sitting or former American president to be criminally indicted — a development that has propelled the United States into uncharted political waters.
Police lined the streets while helicopters buzzed in the skies as Trump’s motorcade made the short drive to court, a journey given wall-to-wall live coverage on US networks although cameras will not be allowed for the hearing itself.
Trump was not subjected to a “perp walk” — in which a defendant is escorted in handcuffs past media cameras.
– Protests outside court –
Trump claims he is the victim of “political persecution” — but is also using the court case to energize his support base and raise millions of dollars for his bid to reclaim the White House.
He plans to speak to reporters as he walks through the hallways toward court, one of his attorneys told CNN.
“THE RADICAL LEFT DEMOCRATS HAVE CRIMINALIZED THE JUSTICE SYSTEM,” Trump posted hours before the hearing, branding the proceedings a “kangaroo court.”
Hundreds of people gathered outside the venue — both of Trump supporters and anti-Trump demonstrators, as well as media and curious onlookers.
Police stepped into the fray as the pro-Trump side — many sporting “MAGA” hats and attire emblazoned with the American flag — yelled slurs at counterprotesters.
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The anti-Trump camp unfurled a large banner reading “Trump lies all the time” and chanted “Lock him up!” as Trump fans waved a flag with the slogan “Trump or Death.”
– $130,000 payment –
Trump was indicted last week by a grand jury in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat.
The charges revolve around the investigation of $130,000 paid to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before Trump’s election win.
Trump’s former lawyer and aide Michael Cohen, who has 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.
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Legal experts have suggested that if not properly accounted for, the payment could result in charges for falsifying business records, possibly for the purpose of covering up a campaign finance violation.
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 January 6, 2021.
President Joe Biden, mindful that anything he might say could fuel Trump’s claim of a politically “weaponized” judicial system, is one of the few Democrats holding back over the indictment of his rival.
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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.”