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Trump charged with 34 felony counts in hush money cover-up case

VIDEO | 03:51
Trump charged with 34 felony counts in alleged hush money cover-up case

Former President Trump has been arraigned in Manhattan on 34 felony charges related to an alleged scheme to cover up a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.


Former President Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsification of business records, charges stemming from the alleged cover-up of a hush money payment made in the days before the 2016 election.

Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg told reporters in a news conference after Trump’s arraignment that the indictment centers on “34 false statements made to cover up other crimes.”

“These are felony crimes in New York state, no matter who you are. We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct,” he said.


Trump became the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges when he was indicted last week by the Manhattan grand jury after an investigation that initially focused on a $130,000 payment made by his former attorney Michael D. Cohen to adult film actor Stormy Daniels. The money was allegedly paid to prevent Daniels from publicly disclosing during Trump’s campaign for president that she had an affair with him.

A somber-looking Trump ignored a handful of shouted questions as he walked past police before entering the courtroom for the arraignment. He sat with his hands folded before him on the defense table for most of the proceeding and said little beyond replying “not guilty” when asked how he pleaded, and “I do” and “yes” when asked whether he understood his rights and the law.

Falsification of business records is normally a misdemeanor under New York law, but the prosecutor elevated it to a felony on the grounds that the conduct was intended to conceal another underlying crime. Bragg told reporters the underlying crimes were violations of New York election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to promote a candidacy by unlawful means, make false statements to tax authorities and surpass federal contribution limits.

Supporters and critics of former President Trump — including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — fill a park across the street from the courthouse amid extra security for his arraignment.

April 4, 2023

The former president has been accused of hiding reimbursement and further compensation to Cohen by funneling those payments either through his business’ revocable trust or through his bank account and recording them as legal services. The indictment states that Trump and Cohen “met in the Oval Office at the White House” in February 2017 to confirm the repayment scheme. Trump signed several of the checks while he was president, according to the indictment. Cohen did not perform legal work for Trump while he was in the White House.

Despite the heavy focus on Daniels before the indictment was unsealed, the charges outline a broad effort to conceal damaging information from voters before and after the 2016 election, including a so-called catch-and-kill scheme to identify, purchase and bury negative stories about Trump.

Other payments identified by the prosecution include $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child Trump fathered out of wedlock and a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also alleged that she had a sexual relationship with Trump. American Media Inc., which at the time owned the National Enquirer, has admitted in court to paying sources whose allegations could harm Trump politically, to ensure the information they provided would never appear in print.


Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to felonies related to the alleged hush money payments to Daniels and spent three years in prison, is expected to be a key witness if the case goes to trial. His lawyer, Lanny Davis, told CNN on Sunday that Cohen provided Manhattan prosecutors with “substantial documentation” of the payments to Daniels and McDougal to support his testimony.

Trump was processed Tuesday — which included fingerprinting — directly before being arraigned around 2:30 p.m. Eastern time. No other judicial proceedings were allowed in courtrooms on same floor where Trump appeared before Judge Juan Manuel Merchan.

While he was being fingerprinted, Trump’s campaign sent an email advertising a “NOT GUILTY” T-shirt with a mocked-up mug shot of the president — he did not have one taken Tuesday — available for a $47 contribution.

Trump traveled from Florida to New York on Monday with his Secret Service detail and political and legal teams, including newly hired lead counsel Todd Blanche, a top white-collar criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor. Also with Trump at his Tuesday arraignment were attorneys Susan R. Necheles and Joseph Tacopina and advisor Boris Epshteyn.

On Tuesday morning, a large crowd of journalists and Trump supporters and critics filled the park across the street from the courthouse to watch the former president arrive for processing.

“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!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform moments before he exited a black SUV and walked into the building accompanied by a Secret Service detail. At 1:24 p.m. Eastern, he was formally under arrest.


Chants and celebrations, complete with drums and cowbells, from anti-Trump demonstrators erupted nearby after news of his surrender.

In the middle of the park, Trump critics laid out a banner with the words “Trump Lies All The Time,” in bold, capital letters. Nadine Seiler, 57, stood nearby wearing a “Trump indicted” T-shirt and holding a banner above her head that said, “Finally coming: Trump arrested.”

Seiler said she decided to travel from her home in Waldorf, Md., after hearing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) would be in New York. Seiler said she thinks Greene wants a “second insurrection” and had traveled to New York to incite Trump supporters into action.

“I had no plans to come here. But when she decided she was going to bring her thugs to NYC, I felt obligated to come,” Seiler said.

Dion Cini of Brooklyn held a red “Trump or Death Flag,” emblazoned with the years 1776 and 2024 and an image of Trump’s face. He said Bragg should have used resources to investigate “real crime” happening in his neighborhood. He acknowledged that there may be a crime in this indictment, but added that there’s currently no line Trump could cross that would make him turn on the former president.


How strong is Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg’s criminal case against former President Trump? The unsealed indictment provides new details.

April 4, 2023

“Like [Trump] said, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, and I don’t really care, because what he does for America outweighs, you know, a crime even like that,” Cini said. “He said it, I didn’t, but I support him because he’s the only American president who ever said, ever, since George Washington, America first. No president has ever said that.”

Police in New York City and across the country were concerned that planned protests Tuesday could turn violent, but aside from minor altercations, demonstrations remained calm.

The former president returned to Florida after the arraignment and gave a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach on Tuesday evening.

Trump has a history of leveling unfounded criticism of judges and prosecutors when he’s in legal trouble. On Truth Social, he has called Bragg, who is Black, an “animal” and “racist,” and has attacked Merchan, who oversaw a separate case involving the Trump Organization. The judge cautioned Trump’s lawyers to advise their client to “please refrain” from making comments that had the potential to incite violence or civil unrest. “This is a request I’m making, I’m not making an order,” Merchan said.

On Monday evening, Trump unleashed another tirade against Bragg on Truth Social, accusing him of leaking information from the indictment, which had not yet been unsealed.

“This means that he MUST BE IMMEDIATELY INDICTED. Now, if he wants to really clean up his reputation, he will do the honorable thing and, as District Attorney, INDICT HIMSELF,” Trump wrote.


As former President Trump’s indictment echoed across the nation, protests bubbled up around Southern California.

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Last month, Trump warned of “potential death & destruction” if he was indicted, and law enforcement agencies have been on high alert in New York and around the country. President Biden said Monday that he was confident police could handle any unrest.

Trump has announced a campaign for president in 2024, and his Republican allies have sought to portray Bragg’s investigation as a politically motivated effort to interfere in the election. The inquiry was initiated in 2018 but was repeatedly delayed by other prosecutors.

Late Tuesday afternoon, dozens of supporters trickled into Mar-a-Lago’s ballroom in anticipation of Trump’s speech, among them unsuccessful Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, My Pillow Chief Executive Mike Lindell, far-right former Trump advisor Roger Stone and Greene, who earlier in the day joined a demonstration outside the Manhattan courthouse. Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric and his daughter Tiffany were also present.

It was not immediately clear whether his wife, Melania, youngest son, Barron, daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, former advisor Jared Kushner, were in attendance.

Around 8:20 p.m., Trump entered to loud cheers as he walked to the stage while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” played in the background.

Standing in front of 12 American flags, Trump blasted his rivals.

“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” he said. “The only crime I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”


Trump continued his more than 20-minute remarks by making the unfounded allegation that “radical left lunatics want to interfere with our elections by using law enforcement.”

He is also facing federal investigations into his alleged involvement in 2020 election interference by his supporters and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, along with his handling of classified documents after leaving office. Special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed in November by U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, has convened grand juries to hear from witnesses in both federal investigations, including most recently members of Trump’s Secret Service detail.

Trump also faces possible state-level election interference charges in Georgia. Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis is weighing potential indictments related to Trump’s attempts to change Georgia voting results after the 2020 election.

Wire reported from Washington and Petri from New York. Times staff writers Arit John in Los Angeles and Erin B. Logan in West Palm Beach contributed to this report.