On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump was formally arraigned by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York City, making him the first former president to be indicted in United States history.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, each of which is a felony offense, and conspiracy relating to those payments. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
According to the charges, Trump funded a scheme to keep his alleged extramarital affairs hidden from the public, including with adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Per reporting from NBC News’s Adam Reiss, the district attorney’s office has alleged that Trump used the payments to “identify and suppress negative information” and to “undermine the 2016 election” by hiding his alleged affairs. The prosecution described the payments as covert, illegal and made “at Mr. Trump’s direction,” Reiss said.
Although the former president claims he never had an affair with either woman, Trump has admitted in the past to paying Daniels to stay silent about the allegations during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump reportedly arranged for his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to offer “hush money” payments to Daniels, after which Trump reimbursed Cohen. Trump described these payments in official filings not as political expenditures that helped him during the campaign, but rather as legal expenses for services that were provided by Cohen.
Though hush money payments are not illegal, the manner in which Trump tried to disguise them could run afoul of state business laws and campaign finance laws.
Prosecutors also noted that Trump’s social media posts — including one depicting him swinging a baseball bat toward Bragg’s head — were “very concerning,” Reiss said. As a result, prosecutors are seeking a protective order barring Trump from making similar commentaries in the future, and forbidding him from leaking material related to the case.
As his motorcade arrived at the courthouse, Trump posted on his Truth Social website that he couldn’t believe he was being arrested. “Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America,” he wrote.
After his vehicle arrived in front of the building, Trump stepped out and waved to supporters, and was quickly escorted into the building by his Secret Service entourage.
The arraignment inside the courtroom was not televised, as Judge Juan Merchan, who oversaw the process, ruled against allowing video cameras. Recording was only allowed in the hallways of the courthouse, where Trump was filmed entering and exiting the courtroom where he pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Though video was barred, cameras were allowed, and several photos were taken of Trump as the charges against him were read out loud.
Trump left the courthouse without comment, entering his vehicle and leaving with the motorcade that brought him to Manhattan.
Trump had lambasted the investigation that led to his indictment in posts on Truth Social earlier in the day, writing that the venue he was being charged in was “VERY UNFAIR” and citing the political leanings of New Yorkers.
Trump also sought to discredit the judge overseeing the indictment, claiming that he and his family are “WELL KNOWN TRUMP HATERS,” and condemning Merchan’s past opinions in Trump-related cases. Legal experts have disputed this logic.
“If there were some facts showing that the judge had become irrational or infuriated then there might be an argument, but simply having sat in these other cases is not grounds for disqualification,” judicial author Steven Lubert told Politico.
Trump also attacked Bragg in a Truth Social post on Monday, the day before he was arraigned. The district attorney should “INDICT HIMSELF,” Trump wrote, claiming that Bragg had allowed leaks about the indictment to be released before the charges were officially unsealed on Tuesday. There is no evidence suggesting that Bragg or someone in his office authorized leaks, and such leaks are not illegal.
Legal experts have pointed out that Trump’s repeated claims that the indictments against him are “politically motivated” are irrelevant if a jury rules that he has committed a crime.
“There’s nothing particularly wrong with politically motivated prosecutions,” Northwestern University constitutional law professor Paul Gowder said in 2016, responding to similar claims that Trump and his loyalists were making at the time. “If one wishes to run for the highest office in the land, one probably shouldn’t go commit a bunch of felonies; if one does commit the felonies then run, one is fair game.”
Hundreds of pro- and anti-Trump protesters gathered near the courthouse on Tuesday, separated by an empty row of space created by two barricades in front of each side, which were closely monitored by police. Some Trump-allied federal lawmakers also made appearances, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), who is viewed as a possible runningmate for Trump in the 2024 presidential election.
“Go back to Georgia!” an anti-Trump protester shouted at Greene, according to reporting from The New York Times.
A majority of Americans support investigations into Trump’s alleged wrongdoings, polling has shown. A CNN/SSRS poll published this week, for example, found that 60 percent of Americans approve of the Manhattan District Attorney’s decision to indict Trump, while 40 percent are opposed to the decision. More Americans “strongly approve” of the decision (37 percent) than “strongly disapprove” (25 percent), the poll found.
It’s possible that the former president will face additional indictments at both the state and federal levels. Trump could soon be charged in Fulton County, Georgia, over his efforts to coerce state officials to overturn the 2020 election results, which is a felony in the state.
Meanwhile, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently conducting two separate investigations into Trump, both of which are being overseen by special counsel Jack Smith. One of the investigations involves Trump’s attempts to change the outcome of the Electoral College through the use of fake electors (as well as his actions during the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building). The other involves his removal of classified documents from the White House upon his departure from office.