NEW YORK: Former president Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a historic moment for the United States on Tuesday, as prosecutors accused him of paying two women to suppress their accounts of sexual encounters with him.
The indictment, unsealed after Trump’s court appearance along with a statement of facts, alleged that Trump and others violated election laws through a scheme to suppress the publication of negative information about him ahead of the 2016 US election. The two women were adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
According to Alvin Bragg, New York’s district attorney, the charges include the former president made a payment to a doorman at Trump Tower who said he had fathered a child out of wedlock.
Trump returned to his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida after the court appearance. Wearing a dark blue suit and red tie, Trump, the first sitting or former US president to face criminal charges, sat with his hands folded at the defence table as he entered his plea flanked by his lawyers.
Ex-president was taken into custody before his appearance in court
“Not guilty,” Trump, 76, said when asked how he pleaded.
“We’re going to fight it. We’re going to fight it hard,” Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, told reporters after the arraignment, adding that Trump was frustrated, upset and angry about the charges.
“But I’ll tell you what — he’s motivated. And it’s not going to stop him. And it’s not going to slow him down. And it’s exactly what he expected,” Blanche added.
The judge set the next court hearing for Dec 4 and did not issue a gag order on any of the parties.
Some of the evidence against Trump was caught in an audio recording in September 2016 as he and his attorney discussed how to suppress stories about his affair, prosecutors said. Court documents said Trump can be heard saying: “So what do we got to pay for this?” Trump’s reimbursement cheques to a lawyer for the suppression payments falsely stated that the money was for a “retainer agreement”, prosecutors said.
The indictment accused Trump of falsifying his real estate company’s books with intent to defraud.
Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination for next year’s election, said nothing as he entered the courtroom or when he left roughly an hour later. Trump previously called the charges politically motivated.
Taken together, the charges carry a maximum sentence of more than 100 years in prison under New York law, but an actual prison sentence, if he is convicted at a trial, would almost certainly be far less than that.
The Manhattan grand jury convened by district attorney Alvin Bragg that indicted Trump heard evidence about a $130,000 payment made to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2023