Trump pleads not guilty at arraignment in hush money case

April 5, 2023

On Tuesday, April 4 in a criminal courtroom in Manhattan, Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to his alleged role in hush money payments toward the end of his 2016 presidential campaign—the first time a former president has had to plead to criminal charges, reports NBC News.

Trump arrived at the courthouse at 100 Centre Street in lower Manhattan in a presidential-style motorcade from Trump Tower in midtown, where he’d stayed overnight. He was informed he was under arrest, fingerprinted, and processed ahead of his arraignment.

“Seems so SURREAL—WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America,” he said in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social, which published as he was arriving at the courthouse.

The indictment was unsealed in a proceeding before Judge Juan Merchan. Trump was flanked by his lawyers inside the courtroom as prosecutors outlined their case, alleging he made covert and illegal payments to affect the 2016 election. He faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.

Asked for his plea, Trump answered, “Not guilty.”

Prosecutor Chris Conroy told the court that Trump engaged in an “illegal conspiracy” to aid his campaign and “undermine the election.”

The statement of facts compiled by prosecutors in conjunction with the indictment said Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

It outlined three people who received hush money payments: adult film star Stormy Daniels, Playboy model Karen McDougal, and a former Trump Tower doorman who’d claimed to have a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock.

Daniels was paid $130,000 by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, while McDougal and the doorman were paid $150,000 and $30,000, respectively, by AMI, the publishers of The National Enquirer.

The Enquirer later concluded that the doorman story was not true, and it wanted to release the doorman from the agreement, but it held off on doing so until after the election at Cohen’s request, prosecutors said. The court filing said Trump thanked AMI CEO David Pecker for his help by inviting him to dinner at the White House in the summer of 2017.

The indictment said the falsified records Trump signed off on were all made in 2017, when he was president. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told reporters the false statements were “made to cover up other crimes,” including violations of New York election law and federal campaign finance limits.

Addressing supporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Tuesday night, Trump said, “I never thought anything like this could happen in America.”

“The only crime I’ve committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” he said, calling the case “fake.”

“It should be dropped immediately,” he said.

The legal troubles, media spectacle, and porn-star-hush-money salaciousness at the heart of the case are a new chapter for the New York tycoon-turned-TV star-turned-politician, whose career has careened from scandal to success for four decades, NBC said—noting that this time, unlike his bankrupted casinos or his failed marriages, many of Trump’s supporters and detractors argue, the fate of American democracy is hanging in the balance as the former president increasingly conflates any legal woes as an effort to illegitimately deny him a return to power.

Conroy also told the judge prosecutors were “very concerned” about Trump’s inflammatory social media posts about Bragg, other prosecutors, and the judge—saying they could have an impact on jurors and witnesses.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the judge his client is “upset” and was simply exercising his First Amendment rights.

The judge warned both sides against escalating their rhetoric but did not issue any type of gag order. “Please refrain from making statements that would incite violence or civil unrest,” Merchan said.

Trump last month called for “protests” in the event of his arrest,; and he later ratcheted up his rhetoric, warning of “potential death and destruction,” if he was charged.

The arraignment is just the beginning of a lengthy legal process that could take months or years to resolve. The case is expected to go to trial next year.

Research contact: @NBCNews