Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records

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A stone-faced Donald Trump made a momentous courtroom appearance Tuesday when he was confronted with a 34-count felony indictment charging him in a scheme to bury allegations of extramarital affairs that arose during his first White House campaign.

The arraignment in a Manhattan courtroom was a stunning—and humbling—spectacle for the first ex-president to ever face criminal charges. With Trump watching in silence, prosecutors bluntly accused him of criminal conduct and set the stage for a possible criminal trial in the city where he became a celebrity decades ago.

The indictment centers on allegations that Trump falsified internal business records at his private company while trying to cover up an effort to illegally influence the 2016 election by arranging payments that silenced claims potentially harmful to his candidacy. It includes 34 counts of fudging records related to checks Trump sent to his personal lawyer and problem-solver to reimburse him for his role in paying off a porn actor who said she had an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

“The defendant, Donald J. Trump, falsified New York business records in order to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election and other violations of election laws,” said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy.

Trump, somber and silent as he entered and exited the Manhattan courtroom, said “not guilty” in a firm voice while facing a judge who warned him to refrain from rhetoric that could inflame or cause civil unrest. All told, the ever-verbose Trump, who for weeks before Tuesday’s arraignment had assailed the case against him as political persecution, uttered only 10 words in the courtroom. He appeared to glare for a period at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the prosecutor who brought the case.

As he returned to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, where he delivered a primetime address to hundreds of supporters, Trump again protested his innocence and asserted on his Truth Social platform that the “hearing was shocking to many in that they had no ‘surprises,’ and therefore, no case.”

In his speech, Trump lashed out anew at the prosecution and attacked in bitter terms the prosecutor and the judge presiding over the case despite being admonished hours earlier about incendiary rhetoric. In a sign of that other probes are weighing on him, Trump also steered his speech into a broadside against a separate Justice Department investigation into the mishandling of classified documents.

“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” Trump said of the New York indictment. “This fake case was brought only to interfere with the upcoming 2024 election and it should be dropped immediately.”

The crowd at Mar-a-Lago included supporters like failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake and longtime ally Roger Stone. Trump’s wife, Melania, was absent from his side and was also not seen with him in New York.

Even so, the indictment amounts to a remarkable reckoning for Trump after years of investigations into his personal, business and political dealings. It shows how even as Trump is looking to reclaim the White House in 2024, he is shadowed by investigations related to his behavior in the two prior elections, with prosecutors in Atlanta and Washingtonscrutinizing efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the 2020 presidential election — probes that could produce even more charges.

In the New York case, each count of falsifying business records, a felony, is punishable by up to four years in prison—though it’s not clear if a judge would impose any prison time if Trump is convicted. The next court date is Dec. 4—two months before Republicans begin their nominating process in earnest—and Trump will again be expected to appear.

A conviction would not prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.

The arraignment also delved into Trump’s rhetoric on the case, with prosecutors at one point handing printouts of his social media posts to the judge and defense lawyers as Trump looked on. Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan did not impose a gag order but told Trump’s lawyers to urge him to refrain from posts that could encourage unrest.

The broad contours of the case have long been known, focusing on a scheme that prosecutors say began months into his candidacy in 2015, as his celebrity past collided with his presidential ambitions.

Though prosecutors expressed confidence in the case, a conviction is no sure thing given the legal complexities of the allegations, the application of state election laws to a federal election and prosecutors’ likely reliance on a key witness, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to false statements.

It centers on payoffs to two women, porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged the former president had out of wedlock.

“It’s not just about one payment. It is 34 false statements and business records that were concealing criminal conduct,” Bragg told reporters, when asked how the three separate cases were connected.

All 34 counts against Trump are linked to a series of checks that were written to Cohen to reimburse him for his role in paying off Daniels. Those payments, made over 12 months, were recorded in various internal company documents as being for a legal retainer that prosecutors say didn’t exist. Cohen testified before the grand jury and is expected to be a star prosecution witness.

Nine of those monthly checks were paid out of Trump’s personal accounts, but records related to them were maintained in the Trump Organization’s data system.

Prosecutors allege that the first instance of Trump directing hush money payments came in the fall of 2015, when a former Trump Tower doorman was trying to sell information about an alleged out-of-wedlock child fathered by Trump.

David Pecker, a Trump friend and the publisher of the National Enquirer, made a $30,000 payment to the doorman to acquire the exclusive rights to the story, pursuant to an agreement to protect Trump during his presidential campaign, according to the indictment. Pecker’s company later determined the doorman’s story was false, but is alleged to have enforced the doorman’s confidentiality at Cohen’s urging until after Election Day.

Trump denies having sexual liaisons with both Daniels and McDougal and has denied any wrongdoing involving payments.

Tuesday’s schedule, with its striking blend of legal and political calendar items, represents the new split-screen reality for Trump as he submits to the dour demands of the American criminal justice system while projecting an aura of defiance and victimhood at celebratory campaign events.

Wearing his signature dark suit and red tie, Trump turned and waved to crowds outside the building before heading inside to be fingerprinted and processed. He arrived at court in an eight-car motorcade from Trump Tower, communicating in real time his anger at the process.

“Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse,” he posted on his Truth Social platform. “Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”

Afterward, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told reporters that it was a “sad day for the country.”

“You don’t expect this to happen to somebody who was president of the United States,” he said.

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7 thoughts on “Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records

  1. This morning Republicans awakened to a universe that spells trouble for them.

    The presumed, bombastic front-runner for the nomination for president chalks up another historic notch on his large belt as the first former president to ever be indicted with 34 felony crimes alleged (and three more major investigations very likely to also hand down indictments on crimes far more serious than what was revealed yesterday).

    Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the wannabe Speaker of the House who lives in the shadow of Marjorie Taylor Green, announced his party will pursue District Attorney Alvin Bragg over the indictment was an attempt by Bragg to stop the fake real estate mogul from running for the White House once more. Never mind that Trump didn’t announce he was again running for his former post until the end of November last year, while Bragg’s investigation into Trump’s crimes began five months earlier, in July 2022. So it was Trump who thought by running for president would provide some sort of immunity from the Bragg Grand Jury. As usual, Trump just doesn’t get how these things work.

    Meanwhile in Wisconsin, in a rebuke to extreme Republican governance, voters overwhelming elected a liberal to the state Supreme Court. Conservatives will no longer control court decisions on issues ranging from abortion bans to voting restrictions.

    As the Republicans have become more extreme, their so-called policy prescriptions for making American “great” again are scaring the hell out of us. The result has been a shrinking of the GOP base to something less than 30 percent. A party with a base that small cannot and will not win elections (although gerrymandering will benefit the party’s candidates in legislative elections for the next ten years).

    While Trump might win the Republican nomination for president, he cannot and will not win re-election. In is “morning in America” again, but this time Republicans awakened to a landscape that is no longer fertile ground for them.

    1. Brent, you’re right. I’m so glad we have Biden in office with record inflation. Negative real wage growth is excellent leadership.

    2. I just want to know, when will Republicans stop bombing my phone with text message pleas for money using this as their reason?

      I got six yesterday and three today, and good luck getting off whatever list they are using …

      And who knows how bad it will get when Trump gets charged for the actual serious crimes he committed.

  2. D.H.
    Your ignorance on what causes inflation is amazing. Try to educate yourself a little more to understand that inflation has been impacted by things other than President Biden and is occurring worldwide. I know it was a valiant attempt at deflect…but you failed. Brent’s comments are based on facts, your deflection is based on opinion.

  3. Biden and the left are just the best. They really have all the answers, and are setting the country on the right path. 😂

    I suppose the Biden family taking money from China and Ukraine is better than a paid off a porn star. While neither are ethical, most Americans would agree taking bribes and influence, while our sitting VP, is way way worse. Unreal……Time for new circus members. Both of these clowns need to retire.

    Time for some moderation in this country. It’s certainly time to cool off the political rhetoric. Unfortunately, it won’t happen.

    1. I’m not sure why folks want to continue to deflect on the topic at hand. This is about Trump….Donald Trump. It isn’t about Donald Trump’s family and everything that they did/have done/are doing with respect to padding their bank accounts through political influence. Let all of that come to light, if necessary. Because, as is the POINT of this article: No one is above the law and, based on a finding of a Grand Jury comprised of people like you and me, it has been determined that there may have been crimes committed.

      The more significant reality associated with this is how the “leadership” of the Republican Party is responding. Badly. And that throws the entire party’s ethics and values into jeopardy.

    2. No, what’s worse is letting the Saudi’s kill a journalist, dismember the body, and to give them cover for it … in exchange for a $2 billion dollar investment in your private equity fund just days after you return to the private sector. That kind of reset the scale right there.

      What’s really annoying is that Democrats might be wrong, but they’re wrong within normal bounds. All the sane Republicans know what’s up and are leaving public life.

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