Donald J. Trump was indicted in a Manhattan courthouse yesterday afternoon, becoming the first former president ever to face criminal charges. After being booked and fingerprinted, Trump pled not guilty to 34 felony counts of fraud. Shortly afterward, the indictment was made public — revealing charges stemming from hush money he paid two women before the 2016 election.
Trump rode from his luxury Trump Tower residence to the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse to face charges. Secret Service agents accompanied him during his ride inside a black SUV. (His lawyers Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche were in another SUV, according to ABC News.) Trump arrived at the courthouse at approximately 1:20 pm ET (12:20 pm central), waving to fans and reporters as he went inside.
During the live broadcast of Trump’s arraignment, a legal expert told CNN that once he entered the courthouse, Trump was officially under arrest. CNN’s Anderson Cooper captured the moment: “So as of this moment, 1:24 pm eastern time, Donald J. Trump is under arrest.”
After surrendering to the authorities, Trump was processed at the Manhattan district attorney’s office. He was booked and fingerprinted, but not handcuffed, and no mug shot was taken. (Officials told the New York Times that the Manhattan facility didn’t have the equipment needed to take the picture and that Trump would’ve had to be moved elsewhere. Perhaps more believably, several officials told the Times that there was concern the mug shot would be leaked. (That would be a violation of New York state law.)
Just before 2:30 ET, Trump emerged from behind glass double-doors into a public hallway and walked into the courtroom. A few minutes later, Judge Juan Merchan entered the courtroom. Inside, there were at least 20 uniformed New York state court officers and about 50 reporters. Judge Merchan forbade live cameras or electronics inside, though he did allow a number of photographers to take still photographs before the hearing began.
Trump remained in the courtroom for nearly an hour, during which point he learned the charges against him. He pled not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The charges he faces are all class E felonies, the lowest category of felony in New York State. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
Trump left the courthouse at around 3:30 pm ET. Shortly afterward, the indictment was made public. It came with a statement of facts by the prosecutor; that 13-page document outlined a pattern of behavior that triggered the charges. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accused Donald Trump and his associates of participating in a criminal scheme meant to protect his campaign from bad press.
“The defendant DONALD J. TRUMP repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election,” the statement reads. “From August 2015 to December 2017, the Defendant orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects.
In order to execute the unlawful scheme, the participants violated election laws and made and caused false entries in the business records of various entities in New York. The participants also took steps that mischaracterized, for tax purposes, the true nature of the payments made in furtherance of the scheme.”
One big part of that scheme involved Trump’s lawyer and a friend. In 2015, Trump met with then-lawyer Michael Cohen and then-friend David Pecker, the CEO of AMI (which publishes the National Enquirer). They struck a deal. According to the indictment, “At the meeting, the AMI CEO agreed to help with the Defendant’s campaign, saying that he would act as the “eyes and ears” for the campaign by looking out for negative stories about the Defendant and alerting Lawyer A before the stories were published. The AMI CEO also agreed to publish negative stories about the Defendant’s competitors for the election.”
A few months later, in or about October or November 2015, the AMI CEO learned that a former Trump Tower doorman (the ‘Doorman’) was trying to sell information regarding a child that the Defendant had allegedly fathered out of wedlock. At the AMI CEO’s direction, AMI negotiated and signed an agreement to pay the doorman $30,000 to acquire exclusive rights to the story. AMI falsely characterized this payment in its books and records, including in its general ledger. AMI purchased the information from the Doorman without fully investigating his claims,” which turned out to not be true.
In June 2016, former Playboy model Karen McDougal sought to sell her story of an alleged affair with Trump from 2006-07. Her lawyer Keith Davidson contacted Pecker & AMI, offering to sell them the story. “AMI ultimately paid $150,000 to Woman 1 in exchange for her agreement not to speak out about the alleged sexual relationship, as well as for two magazine cover features of Woman 1 and a series of articles that would be published under her byline,” Bragg writes in the indictment. The Enquirer secured the rights to the story for $150,000 but never published it — a practice known as “catch and kill”.
Then, in October 2016, Pecker learned that Stormy Daniels was also willing to share a story about Trump. He contacted Cohen and put him in touch with Davidson, who also represented Daniels. (Karen McDougal [Woman 1] and Stormy Daniels [Woman 2] had the same lawyer.) Cohen negotiated an agreement with Davidson to buy Stormy Daniels’ silence. But he didn’t finalize it right away:
Trump wanted Cohen to delay making the payment for as long as possible — in hopes of avoiding a payment altogether. But when he realized Daniels might sell her story to another outlet, Cohen followed through with the payment. He set up a shell corporation called Essential Consultants, then wired $130,000 from the corporation to Davidson. In exchange for Daniels signing a non-disclosure agreement, Cohen paid her $130,000 through Davidson (and Essential Consultants). She signed the agreement 11 days before the election.
That payment is now at the center of the indictment. Trump paid Cohen back for the payments; Trump’s company falsely reported those repayments as legal expenses. The indictment singles out those payments among its 34 counts. In nearly identical language, they detail ledger entries, check stubs, and invoices from Cohen — all falsified expenses.