May 25, 2024

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Trump’s day in court as criminal defendant: What to know

5 min read

Former President Donald Trump sits at the defense table with his legal team in a Manhattan court, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in New York. Trump is appearing in court on charges related to falsifying business records in a hush money investigation, the first president ever to be charged with a crime. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

NEW YORK (AP) — For the first time in history, a former U.S. president has appeared in court as a criminal defendant.

Donald Trump surrendered to authorities Tuesday after being indicted by a New York grand jury on charges related to hush money payments at the height of the 2016 presidential election.

Trump, a 2024 presidential candidate, pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges in a Manhattan courtroom. He then flew home to Florida and spoke to a crowd of supporters at his home.

Here’s what to know about Trump’s day in court:

HUSH MONEY PAYMENTS RELATED TO 2016 ELECTION

Prosecutors unsealed the indictment against the former president Tuesday, giving Trump, his lawyers and the world their first opportunity to see them. Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. Prosecutors said Trump conspired to undermine the 2016 presidential election by trying to suppress information that could harm his candidacy, and then concealing the true nature of the hush money payments. The payments were made to two women — including a porn actor — who claimed they had sexual encounters with him years earlier, and to a doorman at Trump Tower who claimed to have a story about a child Trump fathered out of wedlock, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

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DONALD J. TRUMP, DEFENDANT

Trump was only seen briefly outside the district attorney’s office, where he surrendered to authorities and was booked and fingerprinted behind closed doors. Trump’s mugshot was not taken, according to two law enforcement officials who could not publicly discuss details of the process and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

As the former president entered the courtroom, he briefly looked at a huddle of news cameras but did not stop to speak to reporters.

Inside the courtroom, Trump sat at the defense table with his hands in his lap and his lawyers at his side. He looked right at photojournalists who were briefly allowed into the courtroom as they snapped his photo. During the rest of the proceeding, he stayed still with his hands together and looked straight ahead. Trump only spoke briefly in court, telling the judge he was pleading “not guilty” and had been advised of his rights. The judge warned Trump that he could be removed from the courtroom if he was disruptive. Trump made no comment when he left court just under an hour later.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said during the hearing that Trump is “absolutely frustrated, upset and believes that there is a great injustice happening” in the courtroom.

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A ‘SURREAL’ DAY IN THE CITY WHERE HE GAINED FAME

Before he appeared in court, Trump made posts on his social media network complaining that the heavily Democratic area was a “VERY UNFAIR VENUE” and “THIS IS NOT WHAT AMERICA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!” As his motorcade carried him across Manhattan, he posted that the experience was “SURREAL.”

The Republican has portrayed the Manhattan case and three separate investigations from the Justice Department and prosecutors in Georgia, as politically motivated. In recent weeks, he has lashed out at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, called on his supporters to protest and warned about “potential death and destruction” if he were charged.

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TRUMP ADDRESSES SUPPORTERS

Appearing in front of several hundred supporters at his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, Tuesday night, Trump repeated his claims that the investigation was politically motivated. He and attacked Bragg and the judge in the New York case, the judge’s family and other prosecutors investigating him in other cases.

“The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” Trump said.

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BRAGG SPEAKS BRIEFLY

Bragg, speaking publicly for the first time since the indictment last week, held a brief news conference after the court proceedings in which he said the hush money scheme constituted “felony crimes in New York state — no matter who you are.”

“We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct,” Bragg said. The Democratic prosecutor said accurate and true business records are important everywhere, but especially in Manhattan, because it’s the financial center of the world.

Bragg was asked at the news conference why he was bringing the case now and if the timing was political. The district attorney said his office had “additional evidence” that his predecessor did not.

“I bring cases when they’re ready,” he said.

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WARNINGS AND POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES

The judge on Tuesday did not impose a gag order but warned Trump to avoid making comments that were inflammatory or could cause civil unrest. If convicted of any of the 34 felony charges, Trump could face a maximum of four years in prison, but he’d likely be sentenced to less.

That could be an issue for Trump, who has already singled out his case’s judge and the judge’s family and posted on his social media network on Wednesday that, “The people” are seeing “what is going on and they will not allow it to continue.”

Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina pointed to the chaotic mix of media and protesters outside the courthouse as the former president was arraigned on Tuesday and said that it “was an insane scene” but “there was no violence.”

“President Trump heard the judge,” Tacopina told NBC’s “Today Show” on Wednesday. “He’s not doing anything to try to incite violence.”

Asked about Trump’s comments about the judge, Tacopina responded, “It’s not an attack on the judge, or certainly, his family.”

“No one is suggesting that anything should happen to the judge or the family, and President Trump’s comments did not, in any way, shape or form, incite violence against the judge or anyone else,” he said.

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TRIAL WHILE CAMPAIGNING FOR PRESIDENCY

Trump is due back in court in December, but his lawyers asked that he be excused from attending that hearing in person because of the extraordinary security required to have him show up. Prosecutors asked the judge to set a trial for January — weeks before the first votes will be cast in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Trump’s lawyers asked that it be pushed to the spring. The judge did not immediately set a date.

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MIXED POLITICAL IMPACTS

Though he faces a swirl of legal challenges, Trump is running for president again and has sought to use the charges and other investigations to galvanize his supporters.

Most of the Republicans also running or eyeing campaigns have released statements supportive of Trump while slamming the investigations of him as politically motivated. Many Democratic elected officials have said little about the New York indictment, including President Joe Biden. Trump’s legal troubles are only expected to bolster Democratic voters’ opposition to him, but it’s unclear whether some Republicans and independent voters will see the legal problems as too much baggage.

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A NEW YORK CIRCUS

A crowd of Trump supporters, thronged by journalists, gathered Tuesday outside the Manhattan courthouse. Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and George Santos of New York, who is facing multiple investigations over lies he told while running for office, were swarmed by cameras and reporters when they arrived and spoke mid-morning. A band of anti-Trump protesters appeared with a large banner saying, “Trump Lies All the Time.”

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