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Donald Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records

Seth Wenig-Pool
Getty Images

Former President Donald J. Trump was charged with 34 felonies for his role in falsifying business records in order to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine an election. He pleaded not guilty.

The official indictment— People of the State of New York against Donald J. Trump, Indictment No. 71543-23 — was unsealed shortly after the hearing.

Judge Juan Merchan was asked a few procedural issues throughout the hearing.

  • Bail: Trump did not have to post bail to remain out of custody.
  • Trial timing: The prosecution said it hoped to have trial in January 2024. Defense asked for spring of 2024.
  • Gag order: "The people are not asking for a gag order," the judge said in clarifying he wouldn't impose one at the time.

Trump left the courthouse at 2:25 p.m. CT, just under an hour after he entered.
He joined his motorcade in a black SUV and was expected to return to Florida, where he'll speak to his supporters sometime this evening.

Trump was processed in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on the 7th floor of the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse and then was escorted up the 15th floor courtroom for his arraignment.

Trump pulled up to the courthouse amid a sea of supporters and protesters alike. He arrived unhandcuffed. He ignored the questions reporters shouted at him and looked ahead.

But he did share some thoughts on social media in between.

He posted on Truth Social just before 12:30 p.m. CT, writing:

"Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!"

Law enforcement was in full force, having placed barricades around the court building for crowd control. Signs calling for Trump’s arrest clashed against others cursing President Biden, and others read “Trump or Death.”

Protesters from both sides appear to have remained peaceful, despite loud exchanges mere feet away from one another.

Some of his political allies, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and New York Rep. George Santos, both Republicans, showed up to support the former president.

The former president has been charged with 34 felonies for his role in falsifying business records in order to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine an election. He pleaded not guilty.

Speaking at a briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she wouldn't comment on any ongoing investigations into Donald Trump.

"It's not our focus." she said, when asked by a reporter. "Our focus right now is on the American people."

On whether there are credible threats of protests, Jean-Pierre said she wouldn't get into "hypotheticals" but said the administration is "prepared."

The charges are related to payments Trump made in 2016 to his former attorney over an alleged affair with an adult film star known as Stormy Daniels. Trump denies the affair but has admitted to reimbursing his lawyer, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 payment made on the eve of the 2016 election to Daniels as part of a settlement about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

The unsealed indictment includes 34 counts of falsifying business records with “intent to commit another crime and aid and conceal the commission thereof." That's a Class E felony — the lowest level of felony — in the state of New York.

Those records include:

  • Eleven invoices from Michael Cohen, once per month from February through December of 2017
  • Three entries in the general ledger for the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust
  • Two checks and accompanying stub from the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, with dates that correspond to the first two Cohen invoices
  • Nine checks and accompanying stubs from Trump’s personal account, with dates that correspond to latter Cohen invoices
  • Nine entries in the general ledger for Donald J. Trump’s personal account

Each check was processed by the Trump Organization and disguised as a monthly payment for legal services under a retainer agreement, prosecutors say. "In truth, there was no retainer agreement," the statement of fact reads.
The 2024 presidential candidatehas already raised $7 million in fundraising from the indictment news, his team says.

The Trump 2024 campaign is using a T-shirt with a fake mug shot to promote contributions to the campaign. Emails promoting a “free shirt with a $47 contribution,” a nod at the next president being the 47th.

The former president has been using the indictment and ongoing investigations as a way to rally his base under traditional claims that this is a “witch hunt” against him.

As NPR has previously reported, aNPR/PBS News Hour/Marist pollshowed 8 in 10 Republicans agree with Trump and call the investigations a "witch hunt."

But broadly speaking, voters including Republicans, appear to be leaning against him for a primary. Per the poll 6 in 10 don't want Trump to be president again, including two-thirds of independents.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.