Donald Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts in hush-money cases

Former President Donald Trump speakes to the media and supporters after returning to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 4, 2023. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

April 4 (UPI) -- After pleading not guilty to 34 felony counts related to falsifying records in multiple hush-money schemes earlier Tuesday, former President Donald Trump used a late-night speech to recount a number of grievances with state and federal courts and political opponents.

Trump made the plea in the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse early Tuesday afternoon, making him the first U.S. president to be arraigned on criminal charges. Afterward, he boarded a 737 to Florida to speak his mind from Mar-a-Lago.


After arriving to raucous applause from his supporters at the Florida resort, the former president did not hold back, saying, "Our country is going to hell."

Though mentioning little of what had happened and why in a Manhattan courtroom earlier in the day, Trump spent much of his evening speech recounting what he said was unfair treatment he's received since he first campaigned for president in 2016. He mentioned multiple investigations he has faced in addition to the case in New York.


President Joe Biden was a central figure throughout much of Trump's speech. The former president claimed he would have won the 2020 election had a story about Hunter Biden's laptop circulated. He also furthered unfounded claims of voter fraud in the presidential election.

Trump also addressed other major legal challenges he is facing, saying he was protected by the Presidential Records Act in his handling of classified documents that were seized in a raid of his Mar-a-Lago home. Meanwhile, he claimed Biden kept documents "strewn about" his office and on the floor of his garage. He also said he is being harassed by special counsel Jack Smith in the case.

Trump alleged that the justice system is being weaponized against him to keep him from being elected in 2024, while warning the crowd "nuclear war" could happen should Biden's presidency continue, and that, "World War III can happen under Biden."

The former president also said that, had he won re-election in 2020, the war in Ukraine would not have happened.

Though many of Trump's speech topics were typical ones heard at his political rallies, the events he faced earlier in the day were far from the norm.


In the indictment from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump is accused of falsifying business records in a conspiracy to bury information that would have negatively affected his bid for president in 2016. To do so, Trump and others allegedly executed a "catch and kill" scheme to purchase and bury stories about him.

"The People of the State of New York allege that Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election," Bragg said in a statement.

"As the Statement of Facts describes, the trail of money and lies exposes a pattern that, the people allege, violates one of New York's basic and fundamental business laws," Bragg said in a statement.

Christopher Conroy, executive assistant district attorney, addressed the court on behalf of the prosecution. Along with the charges against Trump, Conroy requested a protective order over all discovery materials and criticized Trump for threatening emails and social-media posts against his office, the courts and New York City.

State Judge Juan Merchan declined to issue a gag order against Trump or his legal team regarding the details of the case.


Earlier in the day, when the former president arrived at his hearing on the 15th floor of the courthouse at about 2:30 p.m., he appeared subdued and ignored questions from reporters who were kept behind a barricade at the end of the hall. He was flanked by his three-person defense team headed by newly added lead counsel Todd Blanche. Blanche reportedly spoke on behalf of the team during the arraignment.

When Trump left the courtroom about 3:25 p.m., he again declined to acknowledge reporters. His motorcade swiftly departed the courthouse moments later.

Security around the courtroom was layered with NYPD officers, courthouse security, and members of the Secret Service.

Falsifying business records is typically a misdemeanor offense, but it can be enhanced to a felony charge if it is done with the intent of covering up or committing another crime.

Bragg offered additional clarity about the charges during a press conference following the arraignment. He said the 34 charges relate to 34 false statements made on New York state business records. He alleged the records were falsified to cover up crimes relating to the 2016 election.

Among the false statements were payments made to Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen that were designated as Cohen's income, paid to him as legal fees. Bragg said Trump falsely claimed to be paying legal fees to Cohen for nine consecutive months beginning in April 2017.


Bragg was asked by reporters about the timing of the indictment and why he pursued a case against Trump after his predecessor Cyrus Vance Jr. declined to do so. Bragg said more evidence and interviews had been made available since he took office and he brought forth charges after a thorough investigation.

"I bring cases when they are ready," he said.

Trump's surrender had been processed prior to the hearing, submitting fingerprints, but he was not handcuffed and a mugshot was not taken.

While Trump's motorcade was driving to the courthouse, the former president posted to his Truth Social page, calling his impending court appearance "surreal."

People began to gather near the courthouse early Tuesday and streets in the area were closed.

The Department of Justice announced the New York-Broadway and New York Federal Plaza immigration courts would be closed "due to large crowds of people and associated street closures" with several immigration judges holding hearings online.

Trump arrived in New York on Monday and spent the evening at his Trump Tower.

The vote by a grand jury to proceed with the unprecedented indictment follows an investigation into Trump's alleged role in efforts to hide $130,000 in payments in the final days of his 2016 presidential campaign to Daniels to keep silent about an alleged 2006 affair. Trump has denied the affair.


The case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg will have little to do about who is telling the truth about the alleged sexual tryst -- Daniels said it happened at a celebrity golf tournament and Trump said it never happened -- and more about the falsification of records over payments to his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to buy Daniels' silence.

Along with Daniels, two others were allegedly given hush payments, according to the unsealed charges. One, a former Trump Tower doorman, claimed to have a story about Trump having a child out of wedlock. They allegedly were paid $30,000 through American Media Inc. The other was a woman who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Trump and was paid $150,000 by AMI. Trump allegedly attempted to reimburse AMI, but the company declined on the advice from legal counsel.

The indictment claims 11 checks were issued by Trump for "phony purposes," including nine that were signed by Trump. Payments initially came from the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, which was created in New York for the Trump Organization's assets while Trump was in the White House. Later, payments were made directly from Trump's bank account.

Bragg said Trump and others set up shell companies to carry out these payments.


Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina has suggested that he may challenge the statute of limitations in the case.

Cohen, who had earned the reputation as Trump's "fixer," provided Congress in 2019 with evidence of how Trump misrepresented payments to him for paying off Daniels.

The case complicates the GOP presidential primary as Trump remains the party's leading candidate to take on President Joe Biden again in the 2024 election. Biden has not yet announced his intention to run for office again but is expected to do so soon.

Prosecutors likely will argue that Trump was motivated to keep the alleged relationship with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, silent in the waning days of a tight election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump has argued that he paid Cohen for legitimate legal expenses, never knew about a hush-money scheme and never had a sexual relationship with the adult film actress.

In Trump's first public comments since the arraignment -- posted on social media -- he argued that there is no case against him and that "$130,000 NDA" paid to Daniels was "totally legal."

Cohen has served time in federal prison in connection to breaking federal financial campaign rules in the payment to Daniels. Cohen agreed to rescind the signed nondisclosure agreement with Daniels that they said prevented her from talking about the alleged affair publicly.


The Trump-Daniels case has a long history. A federal judge also ordered Daniels to pay Trump nearly $300,000 in legal fees for a defamation lawsuit she filed against him that was eventually dismissed.

Trump was accused of trying to silence a second woman in 2018 by the publishers of the National Enquirer. American Media Inc., told the U.S. Justice Department in 2018 that it worked with the Trump campaign to purchase exclusives from Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also said she had an affair with Trump.

None of the charges unsealed Tuesday involved McDougal.

Trump is scheduled to return to the Manhattan court for his next hearing on Dec. 4. His defense team has until Aug. 8 to file any motions in the case, and the prosecution will have until Sept. 19 to respond.

The prosecution is expected to submit evidence for discovery within 65 days of the arraignment, according to New York state discovery law.

Meanwhile, Trump is also facing investigations over the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol; interfering with the presidential vote count in Georgia; and mishandling classified documents that were found at Mar-a-Largo after he left office.


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