Former US President Donald Trump pleads not guilty to 34 criminal counts

Streets were cleared to make way for a historic moment, as Dan Rivers reports

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 criminal counts, including falsifying business records in a hush money investigation.

The investigation stemmed from a hush money payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Prosecutors alleged Trump was part of an unlawful plan to suppress negative information - included an illegal payment of $130,000 (around £104,026) that was ordered by the defendant to suppress information that would hurt his campaign.

The indictment alleges that the reason he committed the crime of falsifying business records was in part to “promote his candidacy."

After the court appearance, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg warned "no matter who you are, we cannot and will not normalise serious criminal conduct."

"Under New York State law, it is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud and intent to conceal another crime. That is exactly what this case is about: 34 false statements made to cover up other crimes," he added.

Donald Trump did not answer any questions from the press as he entered the courthouse

The former US president's legal team has said Trump plans to challenge the charges.

Speaking outside court, Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche said the former president is "frustrated" and "upset" - but that they will all "fight it hard."

Mr Blanche accused the prosecutor of turning the case into a "political prosecution."

"You don't expect this to happen... to somebody who was the president of the United States," he said.

Trump, who has has repeatedly assailed the investigation, himself has previously called the indictment a "witch hunt", had his fingerprints scan but didn't appear to be pictured.

He stared ahead with a blank expression and did not answer any questions from the press as he entered and left the courtroom - where the judge Juan Merchan warned him to refrain from rhetoric that could cause civil unrest.

He then left the building and got into his motorcade parked outside, headed back to the airport for a flight back to his Florida home.

The next in-person hearing date for former President Donald Trump’s case is set for December 4 in New York, and it is expected prosecutors will call on Stormy Daniels as a witness.

Could Donald Trump ride the charges all the way to the White House? Robert Moore reports

In a post on his social media site, Truth Social, before his court appearance, Trump wrote: "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!"

Never before has a former US President appeared before a judge facing an indictment.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is aware of his predecessor’s arraignment, the White House said on Tuesday, but emphasized that it is “not his focus.”

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters: “He will catch part of the news when he has a moment to catch up on the news of the day. But this is not a focus for him today.”

Former President Donald Trump appearing in court. Credit: AP

This is the first time Trump and his lawyers can fully examine the extent of the charges against him, and what prosecutors must prove at trial.

Trump flew into New York from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday.

Demonstrators, both in support and against the former president, and members of the press had been surrounding Trump Tower and the Manhattan court house since his arrival.

He left Trump Tower on Tuesday to make the nearly four mile (six kilometres) drive to the Manhattan criminal courthouse, where he faced a judge for his arraignment.

Trump pumped his fist as he exited Trump Tower before he travelled in an eight-car motorcade down a highway along the East River to the downtown courthouse.

Trump has been accompanied throughout the day by the Secret Service.

News outlets were not be able to broadcast the arraignment live, after a judge rejected a request from several media organisations on Monday night.

Five photographers were allowed to take pictures of Trump and the courtroom before the hearing began.

His appearance was quick and routine but represented a surreal and historic moment in US history.

The former US President pumped his fist as he exited Trump Tower before he travelled in an eight-car motorcade to the courthouse

Has a US president ever been arrested?

The last time anything remotely similar happened was 150 years ago.

It involved a speeding horse and buggy, the thunder of hooves near the White House and a repeat offender who happened to be the president of the United States.

Ulysses S. Grant, who had an eye for spirited horses and an apparent yen to test their mettle, was arrested in 1872 for speeding on a street in Washington, where he had been driving a two-horse carriage.

It was the second time in two days that the policeman had stopped the president, with the first time being when the officer had issued him a warning.

Police officers secure the perimeter of the Manhattan Criminal Court before former president Donald Trump's arrival. Credit: AP

What is an indictment?

An indictment is a formal written accusation that a person has committed a crime.

These often involve felony charges - crimes punishable by a prison term of one year or more.

The indictment, the result of a secret vote by a grand jury, a group of citizens who decide if there is enough evidence to charge a person with a crime, is used to inform an accused person about the charges that have been brought against them.

If defendants are notified of an indictment or an impending arrest, they often arrange to turn themselves in.

This can help smooth the process and strengthen arguments for bail by showing that they aren’t evading the case.

In an exclusive interview with ITV News ahead of Tuesday's hearing, Lara Trump said her father-in-law was 'in good spirits'

Why has Donald Trump been indicted?

Late in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump's then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen paid former porn star Stormy Daniels US $130,000 (£105,000) to keep her silent about what she claims was a sexual encounter with Mr Trump a decade earlier after they met at a celebrity golf tournament.

Mr Cohen was then reimbursed by Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, which also rewarded the lawyer with bonuses and extra payments logged internally as legal expenses.

Over several months, Mr Cohen said, the company paid him $420,000 (£339,000).

Earlier in 2016, Mr Cohen had also arranged for the publisher of the tabloid the National Enquirer to pay Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 (£121,000) to spike her story of a Trump affair in a controversial practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

The indictment relates to 'hush money' paid to Stormy Daniels (pictured), over an alleged affair she had with Donald Trump. Credit: AP

The payments to the women were intended to buy secrecy, but they backfired almost immediately as details of the arrangements leaked to the news media.

Federal prosecutors in New York ultimately charged Mr Cohen in 2018 with violating federal campaign finance laws, arguing that the payments amounted to impermissible help to Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to those charges and unrelated tax evasion counts and served time in federal prison.

Mr Trump was implicated in court filings as having knowledge of the arrangements, but US prosecutors at the time balked at bringing charges against him.

The Justice Department has a long-time policy that it is likely unconstitutional to prosecute a sitting president in federal court.

The charges against Trump are being brought by Manhattan district attorney, Mr Bragg.

His predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr, had taken up the investigation back in 2019.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Credit: AP

While that probe initially focused on the hush money payments, Mr Vance’s prosecutors moved on to other matters, including an examination of Trump’s business dealings and tax strategies.

Vance ultimately charged the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer with tax fraud related to fringe benefits paid to some of the company’s top executives.

After the Trump Organization was convicted on the tax fraud charges in December, Mr Bragg renewed focus on the hush money case, and convened a new grand jury.

Mr Trump denies wrongdoing, and the affair, saying the indictment is "political persecution".

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.