Former President Donald Trump returned to New York City Monday for his historic booking and court appearance for charges related to the Hush Money scandal, stemming from allegations about a sexual encounter.
The nation’s largest city ramped up security and warned would-be protesters that this is “not the playground for your misplaced rage”.
Trump’s long day began with a motorcade ride from his Florida club, Mar-a-Lago, to his jet, a red, white, and blue Boeing 757 with gold-lettered names—all broadcast live on TV.
The mini-parade took him past supporters waving signs and cheering, denouncing the lawsuit against him, stemming from payments made during his 2016 campaign, as politically motivated.
Trump supporters in Florida began gathering as the sun was still rising in a West Palm Beach retail center en route to the airport, hours before the former president was scheduled to make the trip.
Boca Raton Firefighter Eric Solensten and his fellow retiree, John Fisher, were hanging signs. One was 30 feet by 6 feet (9 meters) tall, depicting cops and firefighters saying, “Thank you for having our backs, President Trump”.
Now months into his third campaign to win back the White House that he lost in 2020 to President Joe Biden, Mr. Trump and his advisers appear to be reveling in the spotlight. Cable networks followed his plane to Florida and New York airports, showing videos from the plane, while a small team of top campaign aides were joined on board by his son, Eric Trump, who eagerly posted photos from his seat showing the wall-to-wall coverage.
The scene was very different in New York, where Trump is scheduled to stand trial on Tuesday—facing a judge in a city where he built a national profile in business and entertainment, but became deeply unpopular when he moved into politics. Prosecutors said their case against him had nothing to do with politics, and they defended the work of Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who is leading the effort.
Upon arriving at LaGuardia Airport in New York, Trump exited the plane alone and directly into a waiting black SUV, without anyone greeting him. Only small, scattered groups of supporters lined the path, while his motorcade used police escorts to ferry him through Manhattan. From the air, the procession conjured images of a sitting president in motion, not of a former one facing criminal charges.
Trump spent his time in flight, advisers said. In New York, he met with his lawyers, then spent a night in Trump Tower, then surrendered to authorities in the courthouse. The return to New York opened an unprecedented chapter in American history, making Trump the first former president to be charged in criminal cases.
He is betting that this may actually improve his chances of winning re-election to the presidency next year, and his team has been bragging about raising $8 million since news of the charges broke last week. But even if Mr. Trump is eager to seek political advantage, there seem to be some limits to how much advertising he will be seeking.
In Monday’s filing, Trump’s lawyers asked a judge overseeing the case to bar photos and video of his arraignment. After his court appearance, Trump plans to return to Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night for a news conference.
At least 500 people are invited, according to a Republican familiar with the plans who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss them. Among those invited are members of Congress who endorsed Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, along with donors and other supporters.
The former president also beefed up his legal team on Monday, adding a third top lawyer, Todd Blanche. A former federal prosecutor, Blanche has previously represented Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
Security at Trump Tower and its perimeter is strict. There were few supporters of Mr. Trump, or people protesting him, in the vicinity, and a small group was hanging a Trump 2024 sign. Officials did not observe a large crowd pouring into town, like they did in Washington a few days before a crowd of Trump supporters overwhelmed the US Capitol in January 2021. Still, they cautioned that it is a felony to possess weapons in some areas of the city, including around the courthouse.
One of Mr. Trump’s fiercest congressional defenders, Senator Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, is helping to organize a Tuesday morning rally in a park across from the courthouse where Mr. Trump is set to appear, and Mayor Adams took the unusual step of calling her out by name telling potential rabble rousers to “check yourselves.”
“While we do not have any specific threats, someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known for spreading disinformation and hateful rhetoric, is saying that she is coming to the city, Adams said. “While she is in town, please behave.
The return to New York opened an unprecedented chapter in American history, making Trump the first former president to be charged in criminal cases.
Security at Trump Tower and its perimeter is strict. There were few supporters of Mr. Trump, or people protesting him, in the vicinity, and a small group was hanging a Trump 2024 sign.
Officials did not observe a large influx of people entering the city, like they did in Washington days before a crowd of Trump supporters overwhelmed the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. Still, they cautioned that it is a felony to possess weapons in some areas of the city, including around the courthouse.
Mr. Trump faces several charges related to the falsification of business records, including at least one felony count. The probe is looking into the six-figure payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Both said they had sexual encounters with a married Trump years before he entered politics. Trump has denied having any sexual contact with either woman, and denied any improper conduct related to payments.
A stone-faced Donald Trump made his stunning courtroom appearance Tuesday, as he was slapped down with a 34-count criminal indictment charging him in a scheme to suppress allegations about an extramarital affair that surfaced during his first run for the White House.
The Manhattan courtroom appearance was a jaw-dropping sight for the first former president ever to face a felony charge. With Trump watching silently, the prosecutors directly accused him of criminal behavior and laid the groundwork for the potential prosecution of him in a city where he had emerged as a celebrity decades earlier.
The indictment centers on allegations that Trump falsified internal corporate records at his private companies as he sought to conceal efforts to illicitly influence the 2016 election by setting up payments that mute statements potentially damaging to his candidacy. It includes 34 counts of falsifying records related to checks Trump sent to his personal attorney and fixer in order to compensate him for his role in paying a pornographic film actress who said she had an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years before.
Trump, who was somber and quiet when entering and leaving the Manhattan courtroom, said in a steady voice, “Not guilty,” facing a judge who warned him to avoid rhetoric that could energize or create civil unrest.
All told, the always-verbose Trump, who spent weeks leading up to Tuesday’s arraignment attacking the case against him as political harassment, spoke just 10 words inside the courtroom.
As he returned to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, where he gave a prime-time speech before hundreds of supporters, Mr. Trump again protested his innocence, and said on his “Truth Social” platform that “the hearings were upsetting for many because there were no surprises, and thus, no case.”
In the speech, Trump re-litigated the accusation and attacked in scathing terms the prosecutors and judge who were presiding over the case, even though he had been warned hours before of inflammatory remarks. In a sign of how he is being weighed down by the other investigations, Trump also channeled his speech into a rant about the separate Justice Department investigation into the mishandling of classified documents.
The Mar-a-Lago crowd included supporters such as former Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake and longtime ally Roger Stone. Trump’s wife, Melania, was not with him, nor was she seen in New York.
In New York’s case, each count of falsifying business records, a felony, is punishable by up to four years in prison—although it is unlikely whether any jail time will be imposed if Trump is convicted.
The next court date is Dec. 4—two months before Republicans start the nomination process in earnest—and it is expected that Trump will once again be on trial. A conviction will not bar Trump from running or winning the presidency in 2024.
The arraignment also took aim at Trump’s rhetoric about the case, with prosecutors at one point passing around printed copies of his social media posts to a judge and defense attorneys, with Trump watching. Superior Court Judge Juan Merchan did not issue a gag order, but told Trump’s lawyers to encourage him to abstain from posts that might incite rioting.
The broader contours of the case, which has long been known, center around a pattern prosecutors said began months into his 2015 candidacy, when his celebrity background clashed with his presidential ambitions.
While prosecutors expressed confidence in the case, conviction is not certain, given the legal complexities of the charges, the application of state election laws to the federal election, and prosecutors probable reliance on one key witness, Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to making false statements in 2018 and might soon be facing a lawsuit by Attorney Alan Derschowitz.
All 34 charges against Trump involve a set of checks written to Cohen, in repayment for his role in paying off Daniels. Those payments, made over a period of 12 months, were recorded in various internal corporate documents as being made for legal fees, which prosecutors allege did not exist. Cohen was already questioned by the grand jury. Nine of these monthly checks were paid from Mr. Trump’s personal account, but records related to them are maintained in the Trump Organization’s data systems.
Prosecutors say that the first instance of direct payments from Trump for the hush money came in fall 2015, when a former Trump Tower janitor tried to sell information about a supposedly out-of-wedlock son that Trump had fathered.
David Pecker, a friend of Trumps and the publisher of The National Enquirer, made a $30,000 payment to the doorman for the exclusive rights to the story, according to the indictment, under a deal that was intended to protect Trump during the presidential campaign. Pecker’s firm later determined that the doorman’s story was untrue, but it is said that it maintained confidentiality about the doorman on the instruction of Cohen, even until after Election Day. Trump has denied having sexual relations with both Daniels and McDougal, and denied any wrongdoing related to payments.
Tuesday’s program, with its remarkable mix of legal and political agenda items, represents the new split-screen reality for Trump, who is subjecting himself to the grim demands of America’s criminal justice system while presenting a defiant, victim-blaming aura at campaign-celebrating events. Wearing his trademark navy suit and red tie, Trump turns and waves to crowds outside the building before heading inside for fingerprinting and processing. He arrived in the courthouse by motorcade of eight cars from Trump Tower, conveying in real time his rage over the proceedings. Afterward, Trump attorney Todd Blanche told reporters that it was “a sad day for the country.”