Donald Trump, the ex-president and frontrunner for the Republican 2024 nomination, flew into New York City on Monday for an historic court appearance to face charges stemming from a probe into hush money paid to a porn star.
With New York taking security precautions and the mayor telling potential “rabble-rousers” to behave, Trump was due to surrender at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday and will likely be fingerprinted prior to appearing before a judge for an arraignment where he will plead not guilty, The Associated Press said.
Trump, 76, is the first former or sitting US president to face criminal charges.
Yahoo News late on Monday said Trump would face 34 felony counts for falsification of business records. Citing a single source briefed on Tuesday’s arraignment procedures, Yahoo said none of the charges against Trump were misdemeanors.
Trump’s plane – painted in red, white and blue with “TRUMP” in big letters on the side and an image of the American flag on the tail – arrived at LaGuardia Airport in Queens after a 3-1/2 hour flight from West Palm Beach near his Florida home.
Clad in a blue suit and wearing a red tie, Trump walked alone down a flight of stairs from the airplane and climbed into an SUV for a drive in a motorcade to Trump Tower in Manhattan, where upon arrival he waved to people and walked in without making public comments.
Beefing up his legal team, Trump hired Todd Blanche, a prominent white-collar criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, to join his defense, two sources familiar with the matter said.
Trump’s lawyers opposed videography, photography and radio coverage of the arraignment, where a defendant is brought to court to hear charges and have a chance to enter a plea, saying it would “exacerbate an already almost circus-like atmosphere around this case”, detracting from dignity and decorum.
Judge Juan Merchan late on Monday ruled that five photographers would be admitted before the arraignment started to take pictures for several minutes until they must stop, with cameras allowed in the hallways of the building.
The Manhattan grand jury that indicted Trump heard evidence for months this year about a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy 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. Trump denies having had any such relationship with her.
Blanche previously represented Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, when Manafort was hit with New York state fraud charges after being sentenced to prison for federal crimes.
The state charges were eventually dismissed and Trump pardoned Manafort before leaving office. Blanche also previously represented Igor Fruman, who was an associate of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The specific charges in the indictment by a grand jury convened by Bragg, a Democrat, have yet to be disclosed. Trump has said he is innocent. He and his allies have portrayed the charges as politically motivated.
A motorcade of several vehicles took Trump at midday from his Mar-a-Lago estate to the airport in nearby West Palm Beach. Trump climbed out of an SUV before he and members of his entourage climbed a set of stairs to enter his plane.
“WITCH HUNT, as our once great Country is going to HELL!” Trump posted on social media right before he left Florida.
Trump said on social media he would head to the courthouse on Tuesday morning.
‘OUR COUNTRY HAS FALLEN,’ TRUMP CAMPAIGN ASSERTS
Trump’s campaign raised $7 million in the three days after word of the indictment emerged last Thursday, senior adviser Jason Miller said. The campaign on Monday issued the latest in a series of fundraising emails, taking aim at the media’s reporting on his indictment.
Remarks attributed to Trump in the email stated: “Our country has fallen. But I’m not giving up on America. We can and we will save our nation in 2024.”
A court official said the arraignment was planned for 2:15 p.m. (1815 GMT) on Tuesday. Bragg will give a news conference afterwards. Trump will return to Florida and deliver remarks from Mar-a-Lago at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday (0015 GMT on Wednesday), his office said.
The New York case is one of several probes Trump faces.
A few dozen Trump fans cheered at the Florida airport and along the route he took to get there, carrying signs and flags.
“Our country needs him,” said Cindy Falco, 65, of Boynton Beach, Florida. “He’s pro-God, pro-family and pro-country.”
Falco predicted exoneration, saying: “Nothing is going to stick to him.”
Trump’s detractors also weighed in.
“Isn’t it ironic that they couldn’t get Donald Trump for all of the crimes he’s committed, except payment to a porn star?” said New Jersey resident Robert Hoatson, 71, outside of Trump Tower. “It always comes down to the lowliest of charges.”
“It’s a terrific day. I hope it goes well and that he is eventually found guilty,” Hoatson added.
But among Republicans, Trump’s lead has widened over rivals in the party’s presidential nominating contest, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, conducted after news broke that Trump would face criminal charges.
Some 48% of self-described Republicans say they want Trump to be their party’s presidential nominee, up from 44% in a March 14-20 poll.
MAYOR CALLS FOR PROTESTERS TO BE ON ‘BEST BEHAVIOR’
New York police over the weekend began erecting barricades near Trump Tower and the Manhattan Criminal Court building. Demonstrations were expected at those sites on Tuesday.
Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, said there was no known specific security threat.
“While there may be some rabble-rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow (Tuesday), our message is clear and simple: Control yourselves. New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger,” Adams told reporters.
“As always, we will not allow violence or vandalism of any kind. And if one is caught participating in any act of violence, they will be arrested and held accountable no matter who you are,” Adams added, specifically mentioning Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has announced plans to protest.
“Be on your best behavior,” the mayor said.
Asked whether he was worried about unrest around Trump’s arraignment, President Joe Biden, touring a factory in Minnesota, said, “No, I have faith in the New York Police Department.”