Former U.S. president and 2024 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts involving alleged multiple hush money payments during the 2016 election in bids to cover up sex scandals.
Trump surrendered to police and was fingerprinted before appearing in a Manhattan courtroom for his arraignment on charges related to six-figure payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal during the 2016 presidential election in attempts to silence allegations of extramarital affairs, as well as a $30,000 payment to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. published the indictment against Trump. According to a summary from Bragg's office, the former president is being charged for allegedly "falsifying New York business records in order to conceal damaging information and unlawful activity from American voters before and after the 2016 election."
The summary continues:
During the election, Trump and others employed a "catch and kill" scheme to identify, purchase, and bury negative information about him and boost his electoral prospects. Trump then went to great lengths to hide this conduct, causing dozens of false entries in business records to conceal criminal activity, including attempts to violate state and federal election laws.
The charges are all Class E felonies—the lowest level in New York—each carrying a potential prison sentence of four years per count.
"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.
"Manhattan is home to the country's most significant business market," he added. "We cannot allow New York businesses to manipulate their records to cover up criminal conduct."
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said in a statement following the arraignment that "Donald Trump has consistently proven that he was a lawless president and unfit for public office. History will remember Donald Trump not only as the first president to be impeached twice, but the first president to be indicted on criminal charges."
"Falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments is only the beginning of the crimes Trump has committed. He must also be held to account for conspiring to overturn an election, inciting a fascist insurrection, and fueling white supremacist violence," she continued.
"Today, the law has finally caught up with Donald Trump and his corrupt and reckless behavior," Tlaib added. "No one is above the law, no matter how rich or powerful they are. The American people deserve to see accountability handed down. Let justice be served."
"He must also be held to account for conspiring to overturn an election, inciting a fascist insurrection, and fueling white supremacist violence."
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, who has covered Trump for decades, toldDemocracy Now! Tuesday morning that "hopefully this is the beginning of a revival and a renewal of American democracy."
"There is an enormous amount of people in America, across the political spectrum, who believe that we have one set of laws for the rich and powerful, and one set of laws for them," Johnston continued.
"This shows that we are making further progress toward the far-from-fulfilled promise of equal justice under law," he added. "And this will not be the last indictment of Donald Trump."
An unnamed law enforcement official toldRolling Stone that Trump declined an offer for a low-profile arraignment, opting instead for a midday booking at the Manhattan courthouse.
"He wanted a perp walk; he wanted daylight hours," the official said. "He wants to get out of the vehicle and walk up the stairs."
"This is a nightmare for Secret Service, but they can only strongly suggest—not order—that Trump enter through the secure tunnels," they said. "Trump wants to greet the crowd... It's kind of a Jesus Christ thing. He is saying, 'I'm absorbing all this pain from all around from everywhere so you don't have to'... If they can do this to me they can do this to you,' and that's a powerful message."
While most defendants are keen to avoid publicizing their arrest photos, Trump's team created a fake mugshot for fundraising purposes.
The advocacy group Free Speech for People issued a statement following Tuesday's arraignment arguing that Trump's "many other serious crimes have yet gone unpunished."
These include "crimes releated to the January 6, 2021 insurrection and the events leading up to it; crimes related to Trump's January 2, 2021 phone call demanding that the Georgia Secretary of State 'find 11,780 votes'... the obstruction of justice crimes identified by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the second part of his report; crimes identified by the inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence related to Trump's attempts to extort Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy; and others."
The group called upon U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland "to establish an independent DOJ task force to coordinate these investigations while insulating them from political interference."
Some observers noted that Trump—who followed through on a campaign promise to "bomb the shit out of" Islamic State militants and "take out their families in Iraq and Syria—and other U.S. presidents responsible for war crimes including illegal invasion, mass murder, and torture will likely never face accountability.