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Trump claims election interference after being charged with 34 felony counts

Donald Trump, the former U.S. president and front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records after an investigation into hush money paid to a porn star.

Attacks New York prosecutor in first remarks after arraignment

Yellow haired man in blue suit and red tie sits at a courtroom table beside his lawyer looking serious.

Former U.S. president Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records Tuesday in a historic moment for the United States, as prosecutors accused him of paying two women to suppress their accounts of sexual encounters with him.

The indictment, unsealed after Trump's court appearance along with a statement of facts, alleged that Trump and others violated election laws through a scheme to suppress the publication of negative information about him ahead of the 2016 U.S. election.

The two women were adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

WATCH | Trump's day in court:

Trump's day in New York court

11 hours ago

Duration 0:57

Former U.S. president Donald Trump was arraigned at Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Wearing a dark blue suit and red tie, Trump, the first sitting or former U.S. president to face criminal charges, sat with his hands folded at the defence table as he entered his plea flanked by his lawyers.

"Not guilty," Trump said when asked how he pleaded.

New York Judge Juan Merchan set the next court hearing for Dec. 4 and did not issue a gag order on any of the parties. He said he wanted to avoid infringing on First Amendment rights, especially as the defendant is running for president.

But Merchan added he would be willing to revisit that.

"Please refrain from making comments or engaging in conduct that has the potential to incite violence, create civil unrest, or jeopardize the safety or well-being of any individuals," the judge said.

Just a few hours later, Trump called the prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, a criminal, and said he should be prosecuted for recent media leaks involving his case.

WATCH | Trump lashes out at prosecutor:

Trump goes after Manhattan DA during Florida event

6 hours ago

Duration 1:36

In his first remarks since being charged with 34 felony counts Tuesday afternoon, Donald Trump told supporters at Mar-a-Lago in Florida that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was the criminal, not him.

Trump uses Florida speech to go after prosecutor, judge

He flew home to Florida where he addressed family, friends and supporters at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., that evening — delivering a litany of grievances against investigators, prosecutors and rival politicians.

He described the New York prosecution as election interference, and lashed out personally at Bragg for bringing the criminal charges against him.

"I never thought anything like this could happen in America," Trump told the crowd.

"The only crime that I've committed has been to fearlessly defend our nation against those who seek to destroy it."

Trump also accused Bragg of being out to get him "before he knew anything about me," and called Merchan "a Trump-hating judge."

Former New York City prosecutor Cy Vance, who worked on other Trump cases, warned about the possibility of serious consequences for such verbal attacks.

He said last weekend that someone found to be provoking violence against the justice system could face a more severe charge than the one Trump already faces, telling NBC's Meet The Press that, if he were Trump's lawyer, he'd be urging him not to risk committing a crime known as obstruction of governmental administration.

READ | Full indictment of Donald Trump:

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Some of the evidence against Trump was caught in an audio recording in September 2016 as he and his attorney discussed how to suppress stories about his affair, prosecutors said. Court documents said Trump can be heard saying, "So what do we got to pay for this?"

Trump's reimbursement cheques to a lawyer for the suppression payments falsely stated that the money was for a "retainer agreement," prosecutors said. The indictment accused Trump of falsifying his real estate company's books with intent to defraud.

Trump said nothing as he entered the courtroom or when he left roughly an hour later. He previously called the charges politically motivated.

Prosecutors during the arraignment said Trump made a series of threatening social media posts, including one threatening "death and destruction" if he was charged. The judge asked the parties to "please refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest."

LISTEN | CBC's Alex Panetta on what to expect after today:

Front Burner24:14What’s next after Donald Trump’s indictment?

DA defends charges

Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, says his office's historic case against Trump seeks to "ensure that everyone stands equal before the law."

"No amount of money and no amount of power changes that enduring American principle," Bragg said to a room packed with reporters following Trump's arraignment.

Bragg, who took office in 2022 and initially slowed the office's move toward indicting Trump, said additional evidence not available to his predecessor led to moving forward now. He didn't elaborate on the evidence or how it came to prosecutors' attention.

"I bring cases when they're ready," Bragg said.

Dark haired man standing at a podium, gesturing as he speaks.

"We're going to fight it. We're going to fight it hard," Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, told reporters after the arraignment, noting that Trump was frustrated, upset and angry about the charges.

"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. And it's exactly what he expected," Blanche said.

Taken together, the charges carry a maximum sentence of 136 years in prison under New York law, but an actual prison sentence if he is convicted at a trial would almost certainly be far less than that.

While falsifying business records in New York on its own is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than one year in prison, it is elevated to a felony punishable by up to four years in prison when done to advance or conceal another crime.

Man in grey suit and red tie, surrounded by reporters

The Manhattan grand jury, convened by Bragg, that indicted Trump heard evidence about a $130,000 US payment made to Daniels, in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006.

The former publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, offered to look out for negative stories during Trump's presidential campaign, prosecutors said. American Media Inc, its parent company, paid McDougal $150,000 US to buy the rights to her story but then kept it secret. It also paid a former Trump Tower doorman $30,000 US to buy the rights to an untrue story about a child Trump had allegedly fathered out of wedlock.

Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen has said he co-ordinated with Trump on payments to Daniels and McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman, but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for his payment to Daniels.

Trump's reimbursement cheques to a lawyer for the suppression payments falsely stated that the money was for a "retainer agreement," prosecutors said. The indictment accused Trump of falsifying his real estate company's books with intent to defraud.

One element of the charges is a method known as "catch and kill" used by some media outlets to bury damaging information about a third party — in this case allegedly to benefit Trump. Bragg's office did not charge Trump with violating election laws.

"Under New York state law, it is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud and intent to conceal another crime. That is exactly what this case is about — 34 false statements made to cover up other crimes," Bragg said.

The case is unfolding against the backdrop not only of his third campaign for the White House, but also against other investigations in Washington and Atlanta that might yet produce more charges.

Case not pursued federally

A case involving election expenses would normally be considered at the federal level, but the Justice Department in the Biden administration has been focused on investigations related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.

In addition, the Federal Election Commission was deadlocked on a partisan basis over whether to hear the complaint that Trump violated campaign finance rules with the payment.

Trump supporters and detractors who showed up outside the courthouse were separated by barricades set up by police to try to keep order, though there were some confrontations.

"Let's keep it civil, folks," a police officer told them.

Yellow haired man wearing a blue suit and red tie sits at a court room table, with two lawyers on each side, looking sombre

The hundreds of Trump supporters who gathered to cheer and blow whistles outnumbered his detractors. The Trump critics held signs including one of Trump dressed in a striped jail uniform behind bars and another that read, "Lock Him Up."

The White House remained mum on the drama in New York.

Any potential trial in the Manhattan case is still at least more than a year away, legal experts said, meaning it could occur during or after the presidential campaign. An indictment or even a conviction do not legally prevent Trump from running for president.

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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