Trump Pleads Not Guilty To 34 Felony Counts Of Falsifying Business Records
Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts in a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday afternoon, according to media reports, making him the first former president to be charged with a felony.
Trump was indicted by a grand jury last week on charges related to falsifying business records. The indictment was unsealed shortly before 3:45 p.m. ET Tuesday, and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg held a news conference shortly thereafter to discuss the historic criminal proceedings.
“True and accurate business records are important everywhere, to be sure. They are all the more important in Manhattan, the financial center of the world,” Bragg said from the courthouse. “We today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law. No amount of money, and no amount of power, changes that enduring American principle.”
The investigation was reportedly kicked off by an alleged $130K hush money payment made to former adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels.
The unsealed indictment shows Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to the reimbursements of the alleged hush money payments and misstating tax documents to cover them up.
Along with the indictment, Bragg’s office released a statement of facts that laid out how Trump allegedly used his real estate business to facilitate payments to his former attorney Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to making an illegal election contribution and served more than a year in prison.
After allegedly directing Cohen in 2016 to pay Clifford’s attorney in exchange for suppressing her story about an extramarital affair, Trump arranged for Cohen to be reimbursed via the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, the company set up to manage his business affairs while he was in the White House, according to the DA’s statement of facts.
Trump personally signed the checks for nine of 12 total $35K payments, which were fraudulently characterized as a legal retainer for services rendered in 2017, Bragg alleges. Cohen and Trump met in the Oval Office to set up the arrangement, and the specifics of coordinating the payments were handled by The Trump Organization’s chief financial officer and controller, according to the statement of facts.
“These are felony crimes in New York state no matter who you are,” Bragg said in a press conference after the arraignment.
Protesters gathered in the streets outside the courthouse ahead of the historic event, with those both against and in support of the former president jostling, sometimes sparring, on the sidewalk amid significant police and media presence.
Immediately after the court proceedings, Trump left New York and returned to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he addressed a raucous crowd of his supporters on Tuesday night.
Unencumbered by a widely predicted gag order that never came, Trump was defiant and decried the charges against him as “an insult to our country.”
“I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris,” the former president said, referring to the daughter of the judge, Juan Manuel Merchan, who is presiding over the case.
Trump has argued that Merchan should recuse himself from the case because of his daughter's work with the Democratic Party.
“The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” Trump said in his speech.
The indictment of Trump in New York resulted in the first criminal charges ever filed against a former president, but there are several other investigations into his activity that could result in further charges.
In Georgia, the Fulton County district attorney is investigating allegations that Trump interfered in the 2020 presidential election. A grand jury has recommended he be indicted in that case, The New York Times reported.
The Justice Department and the FBI are also investigating Trump's handling of classified documents that he took with him from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate. Justice officials are weighing evidence of possible obstruction of justice in that case, The Washington Post reported this week.
Trump was also the focus of a lengthy congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, in which his supporters tried to block the certification of the election of President Joe Biden. The House Jan. 6 Committee was disbanded earlier this year after recommending the Justice Department prosecute Trump for his role in spurring the violent riot at the Capitol, the Associated Press reported.
The Trump Organization, the family real estate business Trump runs with his three eldest children, is also the subject of a civil investigation run by New York Attorney General Letitia James, which has already had major implications for the former president’s real estate business.
The company’s finances are being overseen by a court-appointed independent monitor, and the firm is temporarily blocked from selling or transferring assets without permission following a New York State Supreme Court ruling from November.
The injunction and independent monitor stem from James’ $250M suit against the Trumps, which is scheduled to go to trial in October. James spent years investigating Trump and his children Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump over allegations they fraudulently misvalued assets over several years in order to score better bank loans and dodge taxes.
Ultimately, James is seeking to permanently ban Trump and his three children from serving as officers or directors at any corporation or similar business entity registered or licensed in New York state. She is also seeking to stop them from entering into any New York commercial real estate acquisitions or from applying for loans from any financial institution in New York for five years.
The Office of the Attorney General sought an injunction in the civil suit in New York State Supreme Court last year after OAG attorneys said the Trumps were trying to shift their business outside New York. Judge Arthur Engoron granted the injunction and appointed the monitor because of the Trumps’ “demonstrated propensity to engage in persistent fraud,” he wrote in his order.
“Given the persistent misrepresentation throughout every one of Mr. Trump’s [statements of financial condition] between 2011 and 2021, this court finds the appointment of an independent monitor is the most prudent and narrowly tailored mechanism to ensure there is no further fraud or illegality,” Engoron wrote.
James’ accusations of fraud touch nearly every corner of the Trump real estate empire, and she has said her investigation uncovered some 200 examples of the Trumps’ illegal behavior.
For example, she claims Trump lied when he claimed his famed triplex at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue spans 30K SF, while it is in reality only 11K SF. She said he was well aware of the discrepancy, but in 2015 and 2016, documents show he declared the value of the apartment at $327M, far more than the priciest condo sale in city history.
James also claims appraisers valued Trump’s Financial District skyscraper, 40 Wall St., at $200M in August 2010 and $220M in 2012. But on Trump’s 2011 financial statement, he pegged the value of 40 Wall at $524M, then going up to $530M in the next two years, more than double the professional calculation.
The OAG's civil suit also names Jeffrey McConney, the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, The Trump Organization Inc. and other firms associated with Trump, as well as his longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
Weisselberg was a key witness in the criminal fraud trial against Trump family businesses Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. The companies were fined $1.6M after being found guilty in January of 17 counts of criminal tax fraud in a years-long tax avoidance scheme that saw top executives taking perks off the books.
Weisselberg, who took a plea deal for his involvement in the fraud, said on the stand that Trump was aware of the fraudulent practices and that they stopped when he entered the White House.
This is a developing story.