NEW YORK (NEXSTAR) — Former President Donald Trump entered a not guilty plea on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records after surrendering to authorities at a Manhattan courthouse Tuesday.
The former president appeared stone-faced in still photos from inside the courtroom as he sat next to his defense attorneys.
He entered the plea around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday during the arraignment in a lower Manhattan courtroom as prosecutors unsealed a grand jury indictment. Trump spoke briefly during the hearing, telling the judge he was pleading “not guilty” to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and he was advised of his rights. Trump stayed mostly still, his hands steepled or interlaced, and looked ahead during the proceedings that lasted just over an hour.
“Thirty-four false statements made to cover up other crimes,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said at a press conference after the arraignment. “These are felony crimes in New York state, no matter who you are.”
Trump, who is expected to speak after he returns to Florida, did not answer reporters’ questions as he left the courthouse. Trump left New York City’s LaGuardia Airport at 4:21 p.m. on his personal plane, according to The Hill.
The judge said he was not imposing a gag order at this point but asked both sides to refrain from making comments or engaging in comments that could lead to civil unrest.
His next court date has been set for December but Trump’s lawyers asked for him to be excused from attending the hearing in person because of the extraordinary security measures.
The charges against Trump stem from a hush money payment to a porn actor during his 2016 campaign.
Tuesday morning, Trump waved to crowds outside the courthouse before heading inside to be fingerprinted and processed — a remarkable reckoning after years of investigations into his personal, business and political dealings and an extraordinary moment in U.S. history.
WPIX cameras captured Trump, wearing his signature dark suit and red tie, walking solemnly into the courtroom, his hands not cuffed.
He arrived at court in an eight-car motorcade that took him from Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan through the main north-south highway on the east side of the city, past landmarks such as the United Nations. Along the way, the voluble ex-president posted on his social media platform: “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!”
New York police said they were ready for large protests by Trump supporters, who share the Republican former president’s belief that the New York grand jury indictment and three additional pending investigations are politically motivated and intended to weaken his bid to retake the White House in 2024. Journalists often outnumbered protesters, though.
Trump, who was impeached twice by the U.S. House but was never convicted in the U.S. Senate, is the first former president to face criminal charges.
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said in a statement that Trump’s “character and conduct make him unfit for office” but also accused DA Bragg of reaching to file felony charges “in order to fit a political agenda.” Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio echoed that message, tweeting, “Today is a bad day for all of us & we are all going to regret it for a very long time.”
Reaction from the Democratic side has also been varied leading up to the arraignment, with a common thread being that no one is above the law.
“I will always believe that this twice-impeached former president is a threat to our democracy,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) tweeted.
“This is not a moment to celebrate. This is a terrible moment for the country. But no one is above the law,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) said on Twitter. “Those lock her up chants that people were chanting like hyenas in a stadium around the country were never funny, perhaps they now understand why.”
Trump, a former reality TV star, has been hyping that narrative to his political advantage, saying he raised more than $8 million in the days since the indictment on claims of a “witch hunt.” His campaign released a fundraising request titled “My last email before arrest” and he has repeatedly assailed the Manhattan district attorney, egged on supporters to protest and claimed without evidence that the judge presiding over the case “hates me” — something his own lawyer has said is not true.
Trump is scheduled to return to his Palm Beach, Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, on Tuesday evening to give remarks, punctuating his new reality: submitting to the dour demands of the American criminal justice system while projecting an aura of defiance and victimhood at celebratory campaign events. At least 500 prominent supporters have been invited, with some of the most pro-Trump congressional Republicans expected to attend.
A conviction would not prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.
The investigation is scrutinizing six-figure payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had sexual encounters with the married Trump years before he got into politics. Trump denies having sexual liaisons with either woman and has denied any wrongdoing involving payments.
The arraignment unfolded against the backdrop of heavy security in New York, coming more than two years after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed bid to halt the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s win.
Trump was defiant ahead of his arraignment. He used his social media network to complain that he was going to court in a heavily Democratic area, declaring, “KANGAROO COURT” and “THIS IS NOT WHAT AMERICA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!” He and his campaign have repeatedly assailed Bragg and even trained scrutiny on members of Bragg’s family.
Despite that, the scenes around Trump Tower and the courthouse where Trump will stand before a judge did not feature major unrest. Police tried to keep apart protesters supporting the former president and those opposing him by confining them to separate sides of a park near the courthouse using metal barricades.
Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress, staged a brief rally at the park, but the scene was so chaotic that it was hard to hear her over the crush of reporters and protesters.
“We’re the party of peace,” Greene said, thanking those Trump supporters present. “Democrats are communists.”
Embattled Republican New York Rep. George Santos also showed up in solidarity with Trump, saying, “I want to support the president.”
“I think this is unprecedented and it’s a bad day for democracy,” Santos said, suggesting that future prosecutors could target Biden and other presidents with other cases, which “cheapens the judicial system.”
One demonstrator hoisted a sign reading “Trump or death 1776 2024,” but others carried placards showing images of Trump in prison.
The public fascination with the case was evident Monday as national television carried live images of Trump’s motorcade from his Mar-a-Lago club to a private, red, white and blue Boeing 757 stenciled with his name. From there, Trump was flown to New York, where cameras followed his motorcade into Manhattan and he spent the night at Trump Tower as he prepared to turn himself in.
The former president and his aides are embracing the media circus. After initially being caught off guard when news of the indictment broke Thursday evening, Trump and his team are hoping to use the case to his advantage. Still, they asked the judge in a Monday filing to ban photo and video coverage of the arraignment.
New York’s ability to carry out safe and drama-free courthouse proceedings in a case involving a polarizing ex-president could be an important test case as prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington conduct their own investigations of Trump that could also result in charges. Those investigations concern efforts to undo the 2020 election results as well as the possible mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Many top Republicans, including some of Trump’s potential rivals in next year’s GOP presidential primary, have criticized the case against him. Biden, who has yet to formally announce that he’s seeking reelection next year, and other leading Democrats have largely had little to say about it.
Prosecutors insist their case against Trump has nothing to do with politics.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.