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Trump pleads not guilty on criminal charges at hearing

Published April 4, 2023last updated April 5, 2023

A first in US history: a former US president has appeared in court to face criminal charges. Donald Trump has hoped the drama around the trial will energize his supporters as he makes a second run for the White House.

Trump, surrounded by lawyers, in a Manhattan court
Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges that were read to him on TuesdayImage: Seth Wenig/AP/picture alliance

Former US President Donald Trump appeared in court on Tuesday where he was formally charged in a criminal case related to hush payments from 2016.

Trump waved at supporters as he arrived before entering the Manhattan District attorney's office where he was placed under arrest.

After being processed by prosecutors, he was taken to the courtroom to face Judge Juan Merchan where he pleaded not guilty to all 34 felony counts which include falsifying business records.

After appearing in court, Trump flew back to Florida where he addressed the charges against him and continued to take aim at both the prosecutor in his case as well as the judge.

His arraignment marks a first in US history — no other former president has ever been indicted on criminal charges. Although Trump was impeached twice as president, he had not faced criminal charges.

What are the charges against Trump?

The indictment released during the arraignment included three separate charges of hush money, but the prosecution elevated the charges by saying that they were carried out in order to conceal or commit further crimes. 

"Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.

"We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct," he added.

Trump's lawyers said that Bragg had "turned a political issue into a political prosecution," but called the indictment "boilerplate," saying that nothing new had been added.

The judge warned all those present against incitement on social media but did not impose a gag order, which would restrict Trump and his legal team as well as others involved in the proceedings from speaking publicly about the case.

Trump is supposed to appear back in court in December, but his lawyers requested he be excused due to the major security detail needed for him to attend in person.

The prosecution has asked for the trial to begin in January 2024. If granted, the trial would begin weeks before voters cast their ballots in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.

Why was Trump in court?

Tuesday's charges relate to payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels that have been investigated as campaign finance violations during his first run for the White House. 

A jury voted to indict the former president last week. His legal team has professed his innocence and said they will fight the charges.

Crowds were gathered outside the court before Trump's appearance, including both supporters and opponents, with banners and cheers. But reporters perhaps made up the largest group, waiting to catch a glimpse of the historic moment.

President Joe Biden was reportedly not paying attention to the live news of Trump's arrest, according to the White House.

"Obviously he will catch part of the news when he has a moment to catch up on news of the day but this is not a focus for him," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

How has Trump reacted to the indictment?

Trump addressed a rally of supporters shortly after his arraignment, at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida. He described the process as an "insult to our country." 

"Everybody that's looked at this case… say there is no crime and that it should never have been brought," he said. "Even people who aren't big fans have said it."

The former president said he "never thought anything like this could happen in America."

Despite the judge warning both Trump's defense and the prosecution not to make statements that could "incite violence," the former president took aim at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. He accused him of being intent on "getting" him "at any cost."

"The only crime that I've committed has been to fearlessly defend our nation against those who seek to destroy it."

Trump also took jabs at the judge handling his indictment, saying "I have a Trump-hating judge, with a Trump-hating wife and family."

On Monday, the former president flew into New York from his Florida home.

A motorcade of secret security and police accompanied the former president as he headed to the courthouse from Trump Tower in New York City.

"Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME," the 76-year-old wrote on his own social media platform Truth Social on his way to the court.

He has already announced his run for the 2024 presidential election and is so far the early frontrunner for the Republican nomination.

However, the result of the New York trial — as well as several other investigations — could upend his plans.

Trump will likely 'use the legal system to his benefit'

DW spoke to Marc Fisher, a senior editor at the Washington Post, about Tuesday's arraignment.

Fisher described Trump as "someone who is able to use the legal system to his own benefit and he's been able to skate by, by abusing the legal system, through delay, through tactics of attacking those who are coming after him."

"He's already attacked the judge, he's attacked the prosecutor," Fisher said.

The journalist, who has also written a biography of Trump, said that the charges are unlikely to lead to prison time, but could bring other punishments, "including an effort to perhaps stop him from running for a third time."

rmt, ab/dj, rs (AFP, AP, Reuters)