Donald Trump surrenders, pleads ‘not guilty’, in New York court
The detailed charges were unsealed on Tuesday. Trump was neither handcuffed nor photographed to provide a mugshot, the usual protocol for those indicted.
In a first for any head of state in American history, former President Donald Trump surrendered at the office of Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, on Tuesday. He subsequently was arraigned in a courtroom, where he pleaded not guilty to over 30 criminal charges. Trump was released shortly after.
Five days after a New York grand jury indicted him, Trump appeared in Manhattan Criminal Courts Building of the city where he made his name and spent all his life before becoming president. The unprecedented turn of events has boosted Trump’s prospects in the Republican field for the presidential nomination for now, even as it has inaugurated a new chapter in legal troubles for the former president.
The charges Trump faces are in connection with hush money payments his team made to adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, for her silence about alleged sexual encounters between the two in 2006 and 2007. The payments were made in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Bragg has charged Trump with falsifying business records — which, in itself, would constitute a misdemeanour — and doing so to cover another crime of violating campaign finance laws — which constitutes a felony.
The detailed charges were unsealed on Tuesday. Trump was neither handcuffed nor photographed to provide a mugshot, the usual protocol for those indicted. He was however fingerprinted. Five photographers were allowed inside the courtroom for still photographs.
New York City turned into a fortress on Tuesday, with all 35,000 police officers of the city’s police department deployed and on standby. Barricades were put in place across parts of the city. Supporters and critics of the former president congregated outside Trump’s residence, the district attorney’s office and the courtroom building, chanting slogans and waving placards.
In the run-up to Trump’s courtroom appearance, New York Mayor Eric Adams had said while there had been no specific and credible threats of violence, he had a warning for potential “rabble-rousers”: “Control yourself. New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger.”
Trump had travelled on a private plane from Florida on Monday and spent the night in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. Before driving to the court, four miles away from his home, on Tuesday morning, Trump posted on the social media site, Truth Social, “Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST me. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA,” the last term being a reference to his “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Earlier, Trump had alleged that Manhattan was a “very unfair venue”, with some areas that voted “1% Republican”, and said that the case should be moved to Staten Island. He had also cast aspersions on both the integrity of the judge and the fairness of the judicial process, posting, in all caps, “Additionally, the highly partisan judge & his family are well known Trump haters. He was an unfair disaster in a previous Trump related case, Wouldn’t recuse, Gave horrible jury instructions & Impossible to deal with during the witch hunt trial. His daughter worked for ‘Kamala’ & and now the Biden-Harris campaign. Kangaroo court!!!”
The White House continued to be restrained in its remarks. While President Joe Biden has refused to comment on the case, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when asked about the case at Tuesday’s press briefing and the President’s reaction, said Biden’s focus was on the American people and not on the case. “This is not something that’s a focus for him.”
She added that Biden had not been given a heads-up on the indictment, but learnt about it just like everyone else did.
The indictment appears to have helped Trump politically for now. His team has claimed that in the four days since the indictment, Trump has raised close to $8 million. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll, conducted within 24 hours of the grand jury’s decision, showed 57% registered Republican voters or Republican-leaning independents backing Trump, against 31% supporting Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a massive 26 percentage point lead. In a previous Yahoo poll before the indictment, conducted in mid-March, Trump commanded the support of 47% voters, leading DeSantis, who had the support of 39% voters, by eight percentage points.
Trump has doubled down on his narrative of becoming a victim of a political conspiracy in the last few days. He departed for Florida after the arraignment, and is scheduled to address a press conference back in Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday night. Trump is expected to counter the charges, speak out against the Democratic administration and the Manhattan district attorney for being partisan, and seek to consolidate his base further.
Trump, however, continues to face the possibility of several other criminal charges. These revolve around his possession of classified files, efforts to overturn the electoral results in Georgia, role in instigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection, and business practices of the Trump organisation.