Trump on Trial

Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts in hush money probe

Donald Trump is now the first former president to ever be charged with a crime.

Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts in hush money probe
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Former President Donald Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts after surrendering to authorities on Tuesday. He entered a plea of not guilty before New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan on all counts.

Trump was released after a 56-minute hearing. Trump did not answer any questions from reporters.

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All 34 counts are for falsifying business records in the first degree, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said.

Video cameras were not allowed into the court, Merchan ruled on Monday.

Trump was under investigation for alleged hush payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels through his attorney Michael Cohen. The payments were made in the leadup to the 2016 presidential election. But it turns out the investigation involved three instances of hush money payments being made on Trump's behalf.

Trump is scheduled to return to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida for a rally with supporters Tuesday evening. 

Trump attorney Todd Blanche reacted to Tuesday's arraignment outside of the courtroom.

"His reaction was exactly what would happen if it happened to anybody that I'm looking at now or anybody that's hearing what you're saying. He's frustrated, he's upset, but I'll tell you what, he's motivated, and it's not going to stop him, and it's not going to slow him down," he told reporters.

What the charges allege

Bragg accused Trump of concealing “damaging information and unlawful activity from American voters before and after the 2016 election.”

His office alleged three instances of Trump employing “catch and kill” schemes to conceal information. Those payments, according to Bragg, became illegal by allegedly making false entries in business records.

One of the payments was allegedly made by American Media Inc., the former publishers of the National Enquirer, to a former Trump Tower doorman who allegedly had a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock.

A second alleged payment AMI made was to a woman who alleged she had a sexual relationship with Trump. Cohen said he arranged for former Playboy model Karen McDougal to be paid $150,000 by the publisher of the supermarket tabloid the National Enquirer, which squelched her story in a practice known as “catch-and-kill," the Associated Press reported.

A third alleged payment was made by a Trump lawyer just days before the presidential election for $130,000. Cohen has previously confirmed that he facilitated a $130,000 payment to Daniels.

“The People of the State of New York allege that Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election,” Bragg said in a statement. “Manhattan is home to the country’s most significant business market. We cannot allow New York businesses to manipulate their records to cover up criminal conduct.

After previously expressing reservations about the case, Bragg said new evidence and witnesses gave him what he needed to pursue an indictment. 

How Trump was indicted

Bragg took evidence to a grand jury. The grand jury consisted of 23 members who met in secret.

At least 12 of the 23 grand jurors agreed that there was probable cause — meaning it was likely but not certain — that a crime was committed.

Grand jurors are required to keep proceedings a secret. Most of what has been revealed about Trump's grand jury proceeding came from witnesses, who aren't under the same obligation to remain quiet.

What happens next?

It could take months, if not over a year, for Trump to go to trial. 

Getting convicted is a much higher bar than being charged.

Grand jurors can still vote for an indictment even if they believe there is reasonable doubt so long they believe it is likely a crime was committed.

While it’s unknown whether Trump’s case will be decided by a jury or a judge, prosecutors must prove Trump committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Michael Scotto, who previously led the Manhattan District Attorney’s racketeering bureau, previously said the case against Trump is not a “slam-dunk.”

“I'm not being critical of the prosecution’s case, but there certainly are issues here that would cause a judge to take some time and review the evidence and the nature of the charges and the applicable law,” Scotto said. “If I had to say, we will not have this case go to trial for another year just on the basis of motions.”