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Donald Trump's day in court

Scene inside courtroom when Trump was charged
The scene inside the courtroom when Trump was charged 02:11

Donald Trump has had many titles in his 76 years: CEO, reality television host, casino magnate, beauty pageant owner and President of the United States, among others. 

When he silently walked into a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday afternoon, staring straight ahead with pursed lips, it was with a title neither Trump nor any former president in American history has had: criminal defendant.

Though flanked by more than two dozen court officers and Secret Service agents, Trump was otherwise like any of the countless thousands of defendants who have sat in room 1530 of the eight-decade-old Manhattan Criminal Court building.

A court clerk read the charges — 34 felony counts of falsification of business records —  as a court reporter, who himself has transcribed thousands of cases, documented each word.

Judge Juan Merchan asked for the defendant's plea.

"Not guilty," Trump said. 

Trump - court sketch from indictment
A court sketch of former President Donald Trump at his arraignment in a New York City courtroom on April 4, 2023. He pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. Jane Rosenberg

Throughout the nearly hourlong proceeding Trump sat with his body facing forward, frequently turning his head to stare at defense attorneys and prosecutors as they spoke.

Trump, wearing a dark blue suit and red tie beneath his trademark golden hair, spoke five other times, leaning into a microphone to say "yes" and "I do" as Merchan asked him if he understood various rights afforded defendants.

Prosecutors said Trump falsified business records 34 times, "disguised monthly payments" as part of a "conspiracy" beginning in August 2015 to pay off people with stories that Trump and others believed might harm his presidential campaign.

They also asked Merchan to warn Trump against making social media posts "threatening our city, our justice system, our courts, and our office.

Prosecutor Christopher Conroy cited, among others, a Truth Social post in which Trump appeared to be holding a baseball bat near Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's head.

Conroy said the posts included ones that "directly addressed the grand jury" and "disparaged witnesses."

Defense attorney Todd Blanche said Trump "responded forcefully" and was "absolutely frustrated, upset" about witnesses discussing the case publicly and what Blanche described as "leaks" from the D.A.

Merchan interrupted, saying that was inaccurate.

"They are complaining about the rhetoric and the charged nature of the language that is being used," in Trump's posts, he said.

Merchan, who was also targeted in a Trump post, said he was not inclined to issue a gag order in the case. Merchan said he wanted to protect the First Amendment rights of the presidential candidate sitting before him.

Merchan asked defense attorneys to ask Trump to "please refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest."

"Please do not engage in words or conduct which jeopardizes the rule of law," Merchan said, noting that prosecutors should issue similar warnings to witnesses.

When the hearing concluded, Trump exited as fast as he arrived, walking wordlessly past a bank of television cameras.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 4, and prosecutors suggested a January 2024 trial date.

Blanche called that proposal "a little bit aggressive."

The charges relate to falsification of documents in connection to a  payment made in 2016 days before Trump was elected president. His former attorney, Michael Cohen, has already admitted to arranging a $130,000 wire transfer to adult film star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair. 

Cohen served time in a federal prison after entering a guilty plea in 2018 to tax evasion and campaign finance violations in connection with the payment.

Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and vehemently denied wrongdoing in this case. Trump, a Republican who is running for president, has repeatedly accused Bragg, a Democrat, of pursuing the case out of political animus.

The investigation began in 2018 under Bragg's predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr. It initially focused on the payment to Daniels before expanding into a sweeping probe of Trump's finances. Trump challenged the local district attorney's ability to subpoena a president's tax returns, leading to a landmark Supreme Court decision allowing the release of the returns.

In a November 2020 interview with CBS News, then-candidate for district attorney Bragg described Cohen's federal indictment, which describes Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator, as potentially "charge ready." While stressing he could not "prejudge" any case until he saw the evidence, Bragg said it appeared to have been "prosecutorial discretion" not to charge Trump in Cohen's case.

Bragg was elected in November 2021, taking office two months later. Soon after the investigation appeared to stall when two of the lead prosecutors resigned. One, Mark Pomerantz, claimed in a resignation letter — and later a book — that Bragg had decided against pursuing another grand jury probe into Trump's real estate financial records.

Bragg maintained throughout that the investigation was open and active.

In August 2022, Bragg's office secured a guilty plea from former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg in a tax fraud case stemming from the same investigation that led to Trump's arraignment Tuesday. 

Three months later, Weisselberg was the prosecution's star witness in the trial of two Trump Organization companies, which were found guilty on Dec. 6 of 17 criminal counts related to tax fraud and other crimes.

By then, investigators in Bragg's office had returned to the Daniels payment. In the months since, a stream of former Trump employees and White House staffers were questioned by a grand jury looking into the Daniels deal. 

Trump was indicted on March 30.

Trump also faces legal hurdles in courtrooms down the eastern seaboard. In Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis is mulling whether to seek charges in an investigation into alleged efforts by Trump and more than a dozen of his allies to undermine the state's results in the 2020 election, which he lost to President Biden. A special purpose grand jury conducted a six-month probe last year and delivered a report with its findings to Willis in January. 

In Washington, D.C., special counsel Jack Smith is overseeing two Justice Department investigations into alleged efforts to interfere with the lawful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election, and Trump's handling of sensitive government documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home, including whether he obstructed  and possible obstruction of efforts to retrieve them.

And a few blocks from the Manhattan courthouse where Trump was arraigned is the office of the New York Attorney General, which in September sued Trump, three of his children and their company for $250 million, alleging more than a decade of widespread fraud and demanding a raft of sanctions designed to kneecap the company.

Trump has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases.

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