Donald Trump, the former President, entered a not guilty plea on Tuesday in a New York City court after being charged with 34 counts of first-degree falsifying business records. These charges are related to hush money payments made during his 2016 presidential campaign. The charges resulted from a long-running investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Bragg accused Trump of repeatedly falsifying New York business records to cover up criminal behavior and hide damaging information from voters during the 2016 election. In 2019, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York declined to charge Trump in connection with the payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The Federal Election Commission also closed its investigation into the matter in 2021.
On Tuesday afternoon, former President Donald Trump turned himself in to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and was arraigned in court. He had been indicted by a Manhattan grand jury the previous week, and the indictment was unsealed during his arraignment before Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the case. Trump faces 34 counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree in a New York Supreme Court indictment.
Bragg claims that Trump fabricated business records in New York with the intention to hide unlawful activities and damaging information from American voters both before and after the 2016 election. According to Bragg, Trump and his associates used a “catch and kill” strategy during the campaign to identify, buy, and suppress negative information about him while simultaneously enhancing his election prospects. Trump then allegedly went to great lengths to conceal his actions, which resulted in numerous fake entries in business records to hide criminal activity, including attempts to violate state and federal election laws.
Under New York state law, a charge of falsifying business records in the first degree asserts that the defendant committed the crime of falsifying business records with the intent to defraud, which includes the intent to commit another crime.
During his arraignment, Trump pleaded not guilty, and the judge did not impose a gag order. The judge expressed a desire to move the case forward as quickly as possible, with the next hearing scheduled for December 4, 2023, in the same Lower Manhattan court.
The prosecution is seeking a trial in January 2024, which coincides with the GOP presidential primary season, while Trump’s defense is seeking to delay the trial as much as possible.
The indictment alleges that from August 2015 to December 2017, Trump directed a “catch and kill” scheme involving payments that he concealed through false business entries. Bragg alleges that American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, paid $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman, who claimed to have a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock.
According to Bragg’s allegations, American Media Inc. paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Trump. Trump is accused of directing a lawyer, presumably Michael Cohen, to reimburse American Media Inc. in cash for this payment. Bragg also alleged that 12 days before the 2016 presidential election, Cohen wired $130,000 to an attorney for adult film actress Stormy Daniels, which was also allegedly directed by Trump. Cohen later pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws related to these payments, among other federal charges, and was sentenced to three years in prison. While Cohen admitted to arranging the payments, he maintained that Trump directed them.
According to Bragg, Trump was alleged to have reimbursed Cohen after the election through a series of monthly checks, which were first from the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust and later from Trump’s bank account. Bragg charged that Trump had issued 11 checks in total for a false purpose, with nine of them being signed by Trump himself. The Trump Organization processed each check and disguised it as payment for legal services rendered under a non-existent retainer agreement.
In total, Bragg alleged that 34 false entries were made in New York business records to conceal the initial covert $130,000 payment. Participants in the scheme had taken steps to mischaracterize the true nature of the reimbursements for tax purposes.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office indicted the former President of the United States on Thursday after a lengthy investigation that began in 2019. Trump was not handcuffed during his arraignment, having made arrangements with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Detectives within the office handled his arrest.
The payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal were previously investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York and by the Federal Election Commission. However, the former president was not charged in 2019 by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York related to the Daniels payment.
Additionally, in 2021, the Federal Election Commission dropped its case on the same issue after failing to find reason to believe that Trump knowingly and willfully violated federal election law with the $130,000 payment to Daniels, in a vote that ended in a tie. Trump is currently the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2024.