DA Says Trump Sought to Influence 2016 Election With Payments: The Latest

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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sought to paint the 34 charges of falsifying business records his office filed against former President Donald Trump as part of an orchestrated scheme to “influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication.”

Bragg said that Trump participated in “a catch and kill scheme to boost election prospects and went to great lengths to hide it, including attempts to violate state and federal laws.” The charges relate to payments made to a former porn star and a former Playboy model who claimed they had affairs with Trump, and to a doorman who claimed he had dirt on him.

Trump surrendered to prosecutors at a lower Manhattan court Tuesday afternoon, becoming the first former U.S. President to be criminally charged. He pleaded not guilty and was released from custody on his own recognizance following his arraignment, which was not televised. Trump did not answer questions from reporters inside or outside the courtroom, but he addressed the historic indictment and arrest at an event at his Mar-a-Lago home later that evening.

“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” he told his supporters in Florida after returning from his arraignment in New York. “The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”

Read More: The Unprecedented—and Entirely Predictable—Indictment of Donald Trump

The former President has been attacking Bragg, the judge, and even the jury pool in an attempt to paint the case as a political witch hunt. “Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform while en route ahead of the arraignment. “Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME.”

Bragg’s comments about the newly unsealed charges came as criticism of his decision to prosecute the 45th president of the United States ramped up on Tuesday. Following the release of the charges, which were previously sealed, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a longtime critic of Trump, publicly slammed Bragg. He said no one should be above the law, but, “the prosecutor’s overreach sets a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system.”

Trump is due back in court for another hearing in December. Prosecutors asked that the trial be set for January 2024, and defense lawyers asked that it be pushed back further. The judge has not yet set a date.

Here are the latest updates on the indictment.

Former President Donald Trump makes his way inside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse in New York City on April 4, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump makes his way inside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse in New York City on April 4, 2023.Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

Here’s what the charges allege

Manhattan prosecutors on Tuesday accused Trump of repeatedly creating false entries in his business records, unveiling 34 felony charges that related to how Trump and his company falsely accounted for payments to his attorney Michael Cohen in 2017.

The charges relate to hush money payments Trump made to reimburse intermediaries for silencing three people who claimed to have dirt on the businessman in the runup to the 2016 election: The first two are believed to be former porn star Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal—both of whom claimed to have affairs with Trump. (He denies this.) The third payment relates to a doorman who claimed he had information about Trump fathering a child out of wedlock. Documents filed by prosecutors indicate the doorman’s story was false.

According to the indictment, Trump reimbursed Cohen—who is referred to as “Lawyer A” in documents filed by prosecutors—$35,000 monthly for one year to cover up a sex scandal, with some payments coming directly from Trump’s own bank account. Prosecutors allege his company falsely classified those repayments as legal expenses, citing a retainer agreement, even though there were no such legal expenses and the retainer agreement was fictional.

“Each check was processed by the Trump Organization, and each check was disguised as a payment for legal services rendered in a given month of 2017 pursuant to a retainer agreement,” prosecutors wrote in the statement of facts, accompanying the indictment. “The payment records, kept and maintained by the Trump Organization, were false New York business records. In truth, there was no retainer agreement, and Lawyer A was not being paid for legal services rendered in 2017.”

Under New York law, the falsification of business records is typically only a misdemeanor. But Bragg’s office bumped up all the charges to low-level felonies on the grounds that the conduct was intended to conceal another underlying crime: the use of those funds to advance Trump’s presidential campaign allegedly in violation of campaign finance laws.

The reimbursement to Cohen stemmed from a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign. The payment, which Cohen says he made at Trump’s direction, ensured the porn star would not go public with her story.

The indictment also details a payoff involving the National Enquirer tabloid, which paid $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed to know that Trump fathered a child out of wedlock. The same tabloid made another payment to Karen McDougal, Playboy’s Playmate of the Year in 1998, who wanted to sell her story of an affair with Trump. She reached a $150,000 agreement with the Enquirer, which bought the rights to her story to suppress it.

Prosecutors described this as a “catch and kill scheme” to suppress negative stories about Trump “in furtherance of his candidacy for President.” They also noted that two parties engaged in the scheme—Cohen and the National Enquirer publisher—have already “admitted to committing illegal conduct in connection with the scheme.”

The 34 charges, all class E felonies, are the lowest category of felony offense in New York and carry a maximum prison sentence of four years per count. —Nik Popli

Read More: Could Trump Be Convicted of a Felony if He Becomes President Again? Why There’s No Clear Answer

Alvin Bragg, Manhattan district attorney, during a news conference in New York City on April 4, 2023.
Alvin Bragg, Manhattan district attorney, during a news conference in New York City on April 4, 2023.Stephanie Keith—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Bragg: ‘We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct’

Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan District Attorney overseeing the case against Trump, said that the former President and his associates attempted to withhold negative information in a “catch and kill scheme” intended to bolster his candidacy for President in 2016. He added that the evidence presented at trial will show that Trump falsified business records to cover up crimes related to the 2016 presidential election.

“For nine straight months, the defendant held documents in his hand containing this key lie: That he was paying Michael Cohen for legal services performed in 2017,” Bragg said at a press conference about an hour after the President was arraigned, regarding a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. “The evidence will show that he did so to cover up crimes related to the 2016 presidential election.”

He explained that the payments were misrepresented to tax authorities, adding that “true and accurate business records are important everywhere,” but they are especially important in Manhattan, the financial center of the world.

“We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct,” Bragg added. “Everyone stands equal under the law. No amount of money and no amount of power” changes that. —NP

Representative Marjorie Taylor Green Holds Rally For Trump Amid Indictment
Supporters of former President Donald Trump and protestors during a rally outside criminal court in New York City, on April 4, 2023.Ismail Ferdous—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Trump supporters and protesters divided by barricades

The small park outside the Manhattan courthouse where Trump is scheduled to be indicted is split into two. On one side are loyal Trump supporters who feel wronged by the indictment. On the other, are anti-Trump protesters, who doubt that much will come of the criminal charges but still felt pressed to show up.

One opponent was Nadine Seiler. The 57-year-old woke up at 7 a.m. and hopped on a four-hour bus from Waldorf, Maryland to Manhattan. She wasn’t planning on coming to New York City but when she learned that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a right-wing ally of Trump, called for a rally, she decided it was important for her to be there.

Seiler was wearing her version of the 2016 Women’s March pussy hat—although instead of being all pink it was black with pink ears.

Seiler, who is Black, is not hopeful for the court verdict in the case.. “I am not naive; I am totally aware this is a country for white men, run by white men and the patriarchy is working quadruple time to make sure he’s not held accountable. But he’s going to be fingerprinted; he is going to have a mugshot, he is going to be before a judge and get his DNA taken. That is good enough for me,” she says.

Nadine Seiler holds a sign while gathering outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump will arrive for his arraignment in New York City on April 4, 2023.
Nadine Seiler holds a sign while gathering outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump will arrive for his arraignment in New York City on April 4, 2023.Drew Angerer—Getty Images

On the side of Trump is Pamela Menera. She describes herself as a “pro-life” Trump supporter in her 60s, a mother of five and grandmother of five from New York. “I’m so tired, like so many of us, of the unequal justice system that we have in which we are indicting a former President on bogus charges,” she says. “It’s unprecedented to arrest a former president; it’s absolutely outrageous.”

She adds: “You’ve got to question why a man who has all the wealth, recognition and comfort in the world is still willing to subject himself to this crap for us. He’s doing it for us.”

Like Seiler, she too, believes that Trump will prevail in court. —Sanya Mansoor / New York

What to expect at Trump’s arraignment this afternoon

Later today, Trump will become the first former U.S. President in history to appear in court as a criminal defendant. The arraignment is expected to be quick and routine, with the former President likely arriving between 1:30 p.m. and 2:15 p.m. at the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building, where he will be booked by investigators, fingerprinted, and taken to the courtroom for the charges to be unsealed. He may or may not have a mugshot taken, and if he does, it’s not clear whether the mugshot will be released.

Trump likely won’t be handcuffed, and will almost certainly be released on his own recognizance after he is arraigned. But a few details still remain unclear, including whether Trump will speak to the media after the arraignment.

News outlets will not be able to broadcast the arraignment live from court, a judge said Monday night, though a group of still photographers will be allowed to take pictures of Trump and the courtroom before the hearing begins.

Amid fears of protests, the New York Police Department (NYPD) says there are no credible threats to the city, and so far there have been no signs of the kind of online organizing that would indicate large-scale protests in New York or elsewhere. Trump will be escorted by Secret Service on his 4-mile journey from Trump Tower—his longtime New York residence—to Manhattan Criminal Court.

Following his court appearance, Trump is slated to fly back to Florida where he will give a speech at his Mar-a-Lago home at around 8:15 p.m. —NP

Trump puts fake mugshot on T-shirts—for $47

As soon as Trump entered the courthouse, his campaign started fundraising off his arraignment. As he sat before a judge at the courthouse, his campaign sent out a mass email with the subject line “NEW ITEM: MUGSHOT.” The fake image on a T-shirt, which is being sent to supporters for a $47 donation to the campaign, showed an old headshot of the former President with a letterboard with the date, and NOT GUILTY in block letters.

“Soros believes that with his hand-picked D.A. – Alvin Bragg – having ARRESTED President Trump for committing no crime, they can bleed our campaign dry by dragging us through witch hunt after witch hunt,” the email read, repeating one of Trump and his allies’ main attacks in recent days. “But what better way to PROVE that our campaign will NEVER SURRENDER our country to the Left’s tyranny than countless grassroots patriots proudly wearing their very own ‘NOT GUILTY’ T-Shirts.” — Vera Bergengruen

Read More: Why You Should Beware a Flood of Fake Trump Mug Shots

Trump arrives in New York ahead of arraignment

Trump’s personal jet—a Boeing 757 which he calls Trump Force One—landed at LaGuardia Airport around 3:30 p.m. on Monday—around 22 hours before he was set to appear in a lower Manhattan courthouse for his arraignment.

The former President spent the night in Trump Tower—his longtime home in Midtown—before surrendering himself on Tuesday in court.

In preparation for Trump’s arrival, New York City police have added metal barriers around Trump Tower and blocked roads near Manhattan Criminal Courthouse as they brace for potential protests ahead of the arraignment. NYPD said there were no credible threats to the city. —NP

Majority in CNN poll approve of Trump indictment

Six in 10 adults polled by CNN approve of Trump’s indictment, according to results released Monday morning. A majority of poll respondents also said that politics played at least some role in the decision to indict the former President, including 52% who said it played a “major role.”

Trump is expected to be charged on Tuesday with dozens of counts, but the indictment remains under seal and the charges were not publicly known at the time of the survey. Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly claimed that the indictment is politically motivated.

The poll from CNN also finds that 10% of respondents see Trump as “blameless” regarding hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels. About 4 in 10 say he acted illegally, 33% unethically but not illegally, and another 20% say they aren’t sure.

The poll included the opinions of 1,048 adults and was conducted March 31 and April 1 by SSRS. —NP

Read More: What Polling Says About the Politics of Trump’s Indictment

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is seen at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on March 31, 2023.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is seen at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on March 31, 2023.Yuki Iwamura—AP

Trump attacks the judge assigned to his case

Trump is taking aim at the judge he said is assigned to preside over his arraignment, Juan Merchan, who is an acting justice with the State Supreme Court.

The New York-based judge, Trump wrote without evidence, “hates me,” in a post on his social media site TruthSocial. Trump, who misspelled the judge’s name, wrote that Merchan “was hand picked by Bragg & the Prosecutors, & is the same person who ‘railroaded’ my 75 year old former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, to take a ‘plea’ deal.” Along with handling the case against the Trump organization executive, Merchan also presided over a case in which he ordered the Trump Foundation to pay $1.6 million after a jury found the organization guilty of criminal tax fraud. Alvin Bragg, the current Manhattan District Attorney, was a prosecutor involved in that case.

Justice Merchan’s signature is on an official order that allowed Bragg to tell the public on Thursday that the grand jury had voted to indict Trump. That order was released by the court on Friday. —Brian Bennett

Biden declines to comment

President Joe Biden emphatically declined to comment on Friday about his predecessor’s indictment, in the first chance for the current president to address the ongoing case that has sent shockwaves across the country.

“I have no comment on Trump,” Biden said outside the White House after reporters asked multiple times about what Thursday’s indictment means for the rule of law in the U.S. When asked if he’s worried about protests or violence in the wake of the indictment, Biden responded: “No. I’m not going to talk about the Trump indictment.”

Jen Psaki, who was Biden’s former press secretary, said on MSNBC Thursday night that the White House is going to be “very quiet” about the Trump indictment for as long as it can “in part because as a policy they don’t comment on ongoing criminal investigations, but also because they don’t want to feed into the politics of this.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Tuesday that Trump’s arraignment was “not our focus today” and declined repeatedly to discuss the case. “Our focus right now is on the American people, and I’m just not going to comment on any ongoing case,” Jean-Pierre said. — NP

Pence calls indictment an ‘outrage’

Former Vice President Mike Pence defended his former running mate on Thursday night, describing the indictment against Trump as “an outrage” that will “only further serve to divide our country.”

“It appears to millions of Americans to be nothing more than a political prosecution,” the former vice president, whose relationship with Trump has been strained since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, said on CNN. He also accused the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of having “literally ran” his campaign vowing to go after Trump, but noted that there is “no reason for calling for people to be protesting” the indictment, despite Trump’s previous statements.

Pence, who is weighing his own presidential bid, added that the case against Trump will have no bearing on his own decision about the 2024 race. He declined to say if Trump should be disqualified or drop out of the race if he is convicted. —NP

Catch up on the case

The Trump Indictment Marks a New Volatile Chapter in American Politics

Trump Is About to Stress Test the Credibility of Our Judicial System

Trump’s Indictment Drama Showcased His Rivals’ Weakness

How Republicans Are Reacting to Donald Trump’s Indictment

Donald Trump Has Been Indicted. Here’s What Happens Next in the Process

Donald Trump Was Just Indicted. Here’s What to Know About the Charges and the Case

Donald Trump Is the First President Ever Criminally Charged. Others Have Come Close Though

Why This Indictment Can’t Stop Donald Trump From Being Elected President

Why Did the Stormy Daniels Case Lead to Trump’s First Indictment?

Alvin Bragg Did What He Had to Do In Indicting Trump

New York police officers set up barricades outside the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York City on April 3, 2023.Leonardo Munoz—AFP/Getty Images

Here’s what happens next

Next, Trump will be arraigned in front of a magistrate judge, which usually happens at the courthouse in lower Manhattan. The Manhattan district attorney’s office has contacted Trump’s legal team to negotiate when he will surrender himself.

“This evening we contacted Mr. Trump’s attorney to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal,” a spokesperson for Bragg said in a statement. “Guidance will be provided when the arraignment date is selected.”

One of Trump’s lawyers, Susan R. Necheles, told TIME that former President Trump is expected to turn himself in on Tuesday to be arraigned in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.

At the initial hearing and arraignment, Trump will be told the charges against him, his rights, and have a chance to name his own lawyer to represent him, or use a court-appointed attorney.

Once he is arraigned, the judge will decide if he is a flight risk or presents a danger, or if he can be released until the trial. This sets in motion the legal process. At a later date, Trump will have a chance to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. If Trump pleads not guilty, the court will hear pre-trial motions, and court dates will be set for discovery and a trial to begin.

If the preliminary proceedings take as long as other similar cases, the trial may not start until well into 2024, in the heat of the presidential election cycle.

Trump Indictment
Police officers secure the perimeter outside Manhattan Criminal Court, on April 4, 2023.John Minchillo—AP

Will Trump turn himself in?

It is expected. Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina has said previously that Trump would turn himself in if charged.

Trump’s lawyers are in contact with the Manhattan DA’s office and the offices are likely discussing terms under which Trump would appear in court to turn himself in to face the charges, rather than have to be arrested by law enforcement at his club in Palm Beach, Fla., or elsewhere.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, an expected Republican challenger to Trump in the 2024 election, said on Twitter Thursday that Florida “will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances.” DeSantis went on to defend Trump, describing the indictment as “un-American” and a “weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda.” (The Constitution requires if someone is charged with a crime in one state and flees to another that the person must be returned to the jurisdiction where they were charged if demanded by the governor of the state from which they fled.)

When could we know the charges?

Likely soon.

Trump’s indictment is currently under seal and not yet public. Usually the charges against a defendant are made public at the arraignment or slightly before. CNN, the New York Times, and CBS News Miami have each reported that sources tell them the indictment includes more than two dozen counts.

Once the indictment is made public, the country will be able to see exactly what charges Trump faces and a summary of some of the evidence Bragg says has been gathered to back up the charges.

The right-wing response so far: ‘Now it’s GAME ON’

On Thursday, many on the pro-Trump social media groups and forums that served as the staging grounds of the “Stop the Steal” rallies and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol celebrated the indictment.

“I almost wanted this. Now it’s GAME ON,” one person wrote on a popular pro-Trump forum. “I know all of you are smart enough to know and see all this, but we need to rally behind him and show the left just how much this reinforces his popularity and electability,” another person wrote. “Get active at your local level and get vocal. Teflon Don.”

It was a shift from the tone from earlier in the month, after Trump announced on March 18 that his arrest was imminent. Despite Trump calling on his supporters to “PROTEST, PROTEST, PROTEST!!” to “save America,” few seemed to respond enthusiastically. The largest protest, organized in Manhattan, barely drew 50 people.

Online, many of Trump’s most loyal supporters largely agreed that it made no sense to organize any mass rallies or events, with many expressing anger at what they described as Trump’s “betrayal” of those who heeded his call on Jan. 6.

“Has he called for protests about these poor guys? No. But he’s calling for us to protest about his arrest,” another person wrote on a popular por-Trump forum. “It doesn’t sit right with me.” Another user agreed: “He’s right. Trump betrayed the J6 patriots.”

But on Thursday, some in Trump’s orbit continued to forcefully make the case that his indictment affected all of them.

“For those people who said, ‘It’s not real. Trump’s making it up. It’s not a real issue for us’….Just wait until they come for you,” his son Donald Trump Jr. said on a live videocast on the alternative streaming site Rumble.” We’re in a battle for our entire existence.”

Intelligence officials tracked an uptick in violent rhetoric after news of the possible indictment broke on March 18, with most threats targeting law enforcement, judges and government officials in New York, according to a CBS report. Multiple agencies have discussed potential security plans for the vicinity of the Manhattan Criminal Court. —Vera Bergengruen

Former President Donald Trump sits at the defense table with his defense team in a Manhattan court, on April 4, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump sits at the defense table with his defense team in a Manhattan court, on April 4, 2023.Seth Wenig—AP

Here’s how Trump is responding

Trump is claiming that the prosecution against him is politically motivated in order to hurt his candidacy for President in 2024.

Trump responded to the grand jury’s vote to indict him Thursday in a statement: “This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history. From the time I came down the golden escalator at Trump Tower, and even before I was sworn in as your President of the United States, the Radical Left Democrats – the enemy of the hard-working men and women of this Country – have been engaged in a Witch-Hunt to destroy the Make America Great Again movement. You remember it just like I do: Russia, Russia, Russia; the Mueller Hoax; Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine; Impeachment Hoax 1; Impeachment Hoax 2; the illegal and unconstitutional Mar-a-Lago raid; and now this.”

His statement further claimed Bragg had indicted “a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference.”

He also went on a social media frenzy overnight on Thursday on Truth Social. “WHERE’S HUNTER?” he posted at around 3am. The post is a reference to President Joe Biden’s son Hunter who has long been a target of Trump. Hunter Biden has been under federal investigation since 2018 for tax payments and the Republicans have directed probes at him since they took control of the House in January.

Trump also called the indictment “Fake, Corrupt, and Disgraceful” as well as “an attack on our country” and “free and fair elections.”

“These Thugs and Radical Left Monsters have just INDICATED [sic] the 45th President of the United States of America, and the leading Republican Candidate, by far, for the 2024 Nomination for President,” Trump wrote.

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Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com