The former president turned himself over to authorities in Manhattan on Tuesday after a grand jury voted to indict him last Thursday. The indictment is still sealed but reportedly includes over 30 charges believed to centre on allegations that the former president falsified business records over the course of arranging a hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Trump flew from Mar-a-Lago to New York City on Monday in preparation for his arrest and waved at supporters upon exiting the motorcade to enter the courthouse on Tuesday. “Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse,” Trump posted to Truth Social before arriving. “Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”
Rolling Stone reported on Monday that Trump wanted to turn his booking into a spectacle, opting for it to happen in Manhattan in the middle of the day rather than at night or by video. He also wanted a perp walk. “It’s kind of a Jesus Christ thing,” said one source close to Trump’s legal team. “He is saying, ‘I’m absorbing all this pain from all around from everywhere so you don’t have to.’”
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The arrest took place amid a chaotic scene outside the courthouse. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene fled her own protest earlier on Tuesday as anti-Trump demonstrators shouted her down as she tried to speak through a megaphone. The frenzy had subsided by the time Trump surrendered himself in the afternoon.
The arrest is a moment for the history books, as it’s the first time a former U.S. president has faced criminal charges and the prospect of jail time. Trump is expected to plead not guilty at an arraignment later on Tuesday before flying back to Florida where he will deliver an address from Mar-a-Lago.
The Trump indictment revives the controversy over his effort, in the waning days of the 2016 presidential race, to quash disclosure of an alleged affair with Daniels that began during a 2006 celebrity golf tournament and lasted into 2007. Trump’s efforts to reimburse his then-attorney, Michael Cohen, for the payment to Daniels as part of a bogus retainer agreement constituted felony falsification of business records, prosecutors are expected to claim.
The incident has already produced a criminal conviction. Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws in 2018 for making the payment to Daniels through a Delaware shell corporation, “Essential Consultants,” shortly before the election. Cohen said he made the $130,000 payment, financed by an equity loan on his own home, to spare the campaign — already rocked by the release of the Access Hollywood tape — another tawdry scandal in the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race.
The Trump Organization repaid and rewarded Cohen with a monthly retainer of $35,000, ultimately totalling $420,000, which it booked as legal expenses. In Cohen’s sentencing documents, Trump — referred to as “Individual-1” — was alleged to have directed and coordinated his fixer’s actions. In sworn House testimony, Cohen insisted that Trump was in the loop on each step of the financial subterfuge, adding: “He knew about everything.”
During his presidency, Trump appointees in the Justice Department attempted to remove references to the president’s role in the case in court documents prepared for the Cohen criminal case, according to a memoir by the former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Attorney General Bill Barr even pressured prosecutors on the Cohen case and ordered DOJ officials to write a memo with potential challenges to the case, despite Cohen’s guilty plea and sentencing.
For a time, it appeared Trump would skirt legal accountability for the payment. A federal investigation into the matter reportedly stalled out in early 2021, but the election of Alvin Bragg as Manhattan DA in November of that year set in motion a new examination of the facts under New York law. Early this year, Bragg impaneled a grand jury and began presenting evidence that led to the former president’s indictment.
As news of the looming indictment began to break, Trump wasted no time appealing to the court of public opinion. On his Truth Social account, he has blasted the “CORRUPT & HIGHLY POLITICAL MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEYS OFFICE … WHOSE LEADER IS FUNDED BY GEORGE SOROS” for pursuing charges he claimed were based on “AN OLD & FULLY DEBUNKED (BY NUMEROUS OTHER PROSECUTORS!) FAIRYTALE.” (The liberal financier George Soros — a favorite bogeyman of the right — gave money to Color of Change, a progressive group that backed Bragg’s 2021 campaign to the tune of $500,000.)
The night before his arrest, Trump railed on Truth Social that Bragg should “INDICT HIMSELF.”
Trump, who is also a declared candidate for the 2024 presidential election, has been using the infamy of his indictment to galvanize his political followers. On Monday, his team bragged of having raised $7 million in the wake of the indictment. Rolling Stone reported later on Monday that his team has discussed putting his mugshot on merchandise.
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It’s unclear yet how Trump will respond, legally, to the charges but he has already hinted at a few strategies to contest the case against him. Trump has claimed on Truth Social that he “relied on counsel in order to resolve this Extortion of me,” a signal that his legal strategy may once again include an “advice of counsel” defense. The defense, which Trump first suggested in 2018, holds that he lacked the intent to commit a crime because his actions were the result of a good faith reliance on the advice of his attorney, Cohen.
As Rolling Stone previously reported, some Trump advisers have urged him to rely on a novel legal strategy that would include attempting to convince a jury that the effort to buy Daniels’ silence was primarily about sparing Trump’s marriage the embarrassment of an alleged affair rather than protecting his campaign. Rolling Stone has also reported that Trump’s legal team has told him to prepare to lose the case.
Bragg’s bold move to prosecute Trump may also open the legal floodwaters against Trump. He is also currently under investigation in Georgia for alleged criminal 2020 election interference, as well as by a federal special prosecutor who is probing Trump’s mishandling of classified documents and his actions in the run-up to the insurrection of Jan. 6.