An extraordinary moment in U.S. history is scheduled to unfold in a Manhattan courthouse Tuesday: Former President Donald Trump, who faces multiple election-related investigations, will surrender to face criminal charges stemming from 2016 hush money payments.
The booking and arraignment are likely to be relatively brief — though hardly routine — as Trump is fingerprinted, learns the exact charges against him and pleads, as expected, not guilty.
Trump, who was impeached twice by the U.S. House but was never convicted in the U.S. Senate, will become the first former president to face criminal charges. The nation’s 45th commander-in-chief will be escorted from Trump Tower to the courthouse by the Secret Service and may have his mug shot taken.
New York police are braced for protests by Trump supporters, who share the former president’s belief that the New York grand jury indictment — and three additional pending investigations — are politically motivated and intended to weaken his bid to retake the White House in 2024.
Trump, a former reality TV star, has been hyping that narrative to his political advantage, raising millions of dollars since the indictment on claims of a “witch hunt.” He has personally assailed the Manhattan district attorney, egged on supporters to protest, and claimed without evidence that the judge presiding over the case “hates me” — something Trump’s lawyer has said is not true.
Trump is scheduled to return to his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, Tuesday evening to hold a rally, punctuating his new reality: submitting to the dour demands of the American criminal justice system while projecting an aura of defiance and victimhood at celebratory campaign events.
A conviction would not prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.
Inside the Manhattan courtroom, prosecutors led by New York’s district attorney, Alvin Bragg, are expected to unseal the indictment issued last week by a grand jury. This is when Trump and his defence lawyers will get their first glimpse of the precise allegations against him.
The indictment includes multiple charges of falsifying business records, including at least one felony offence, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press last week.
After the arraignment, Trump is expected to be released by authorities because the charges against him don’t require that bail be set.
The investigation is scrutinizing six-figure payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had sexual encounters with the married Trump years before he got into politics. Trump denies having sexual liaisons with either woman and has denied any wrongdoing involving payments.
The arraignment will unfold against the backdrop of heavy security in New York, coming more than two years after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed bid to halt the congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s win.
Though police said they had no intelligence suggesting any violence was likely, they were on high alert for any potential disruptions.
“While there may be some rabble-rousers thinking of coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: Control yourselves,” Mayor Eric Adams said at a news conference Monday.
Trump pollster John McLaughlin said the former president would approach the day with “dignity.”
“He will be a gentleman,” McLaughlin said. “He’ll show strength and he’ll show dignity and ... we’ll get through this and win the election.”
The public fascination with the case was evident Monday as national television carried live images of Trump’s motorcade from his Mar-a-Lago club to his red, white and blue Boeing 757. From there, he was flown to New York, where he was expected to spend the night at Trump Tower before turning himself in the following day.
The former president and his aides are embracing the media circus. After initially being caught off guard when news of the indictment broke Thursday evening, Trump and his team are hoping to use the case to their advantage. Still, they asked the judge in a Monday filing to ban photo and video coverage of the arraignment.
Though prosecutors routinely insist that no person is above the law, bringing criminal charges against a former president carries instant logistical complications.
New York’s ability to carry out safe and drama-free courthouse proceedings in a case involving a polarizing ex-president could be an important test case as prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington conduct their investigations of Trump that could also result in charges. Those investigations concern efforts to undo the 2020 election results as well as the possible mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Top Republicans, including some of Trump’s potential rivals in next year’s GOP presidential primary, have decried the case against him. President Joe Biden, who has yet to formally announce that he’s seeking reelection next year, and other leading Democrats have largely had little to say about it.
Trump’s former U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, was campaigning on Monday near the U.S.-Mexico border as part of her presidential bid and suggested that coverage of the former president’s indictment was distracting from other key issues, like immigration. But even she added, “You’ve got a liberal prosecutor that’s doing political revenge against a former president.”
Prosecutors say their case against Trump has nothing to do with politics.