For about two hours, for the first time in his life, Donald Trump was not a free man. He surrendered to authorities at Manhattan Criminal Court just before 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, beginning a surreal moment in U.S. history: a former president placed under arrest.
After being fingerprinted, though not photographed for a mug shot, Trump walked a few steps out from behind a blacked-out door, where photographers briefly captured his glowering face framed by his signature combination of navy suit, white shirt, and red tie. Inside the courtroom, the 76-year-old defendant sat with his hands in his lap, next to his defense attorneys.
When asked by Judge Juan Merchan how he pleaded to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, Trump answered, “Not guilty.”
The case centers on Trump’s alleged role in directing hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels via Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, to save his 2016 presidential campaign from the porn star’s allegations of an extramarital affair years earlier. Prosecutors allege that business records created to reimburse Cohen were falsified — everything from entries in the Trump Corporation’s ledger to check stubs. In court papers, they also cited similar efforts by Trump’s then-friend David Pecker, who ran the National Enquirer, to “catch and kill” other damaging stories from Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal and a former Trump doorman.
Seated behind the prosecution table was Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, taking notes in a spiral-bound notebook and flanked by security. Days earlier, Trump had shared an image of himself wielding a baseball bat against Bragg, who has faced at least once death threat since Trump unleashed a familiar campaign of intimidation against him.
Asked by prosecutors to address the menacing social-media posts, Judge Merchan admonished Trump’s defense attorneys to advise their client to not speak publicly about the case. Merchan asked that prosecutors advise their witnesses the same, clearly referencing Daniels and the expected star witness, Cohen.
Merchan ordered Trump to be released on his own recognizance, and the former president was whisked away by members of the Secret Service, who were by his side during the entire ordeal. They sped down the highway in black vehicles to La Guardia Airport, where Trump had arrived in dramatic fashion a day earlier on his private jet from Mar-a-Lago.
Trump’s flagging campaign to return to power has been galvanized by his indictment, with Republican officials and voters rallying to his side, believing he is the victim of a “witch hunt” by the Democratic district attorney. He’s raised millions of dollars for his campaign since erroneously predicting his own “arrest” would take place weeks ago and was returning to Florida to turn the entire day into a campaign speech.
The arraignment was the hottest event in town — with Trump’s travel to New York tracked like he was O. J. Simpson. In Manhattan, media began lining up for access to the courthouse 24 hours before the hearing was scheduled to begin, and with helicopters whirring with anticipation by early Tuesday morning. Outside, dozens of Trump fans rallied in support of the former president, as he had called for weeks earlier, though they and special guest Marjorie Taylor Greene were drowned out by counterprotesters.
More on Trump’s Indictment
- The Case(s) Against Donald Trump
- Courthouse Staff Wept for Trump (in His Imagination)
- Alvin Bragg Sues House Republicans to Block Their Counterattack