Former US President Donald Trump Tuesday pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of “falsifying business records in the first degree” in a Manhattan, New York courtroom. The 34 counts originate with a grand jury indictment from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. The indictment alleges that from August 2015 to December 2017, Trump and his allies perpetrated a scheme to hide damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.
On Tuesday afternoon, Trump appeared in a Manhattan courtroom before Judge Juan Merchan. Consistent with other New York criminal defendants, Trump was taken into police custody and fingerprinted. Though no cameras were allowed inside the courtroom to record, reporters from within the courtroom reported that Trump himself pleaded not guilty to Merchan during his arraignment. Shortly thereafter, the court released the 34-count indictment to the public.
Though the indictment itself does not include many details regarding the alleged criminal acts, Bragg released a statement of the facts which helps illustrate the prosecution’s case against Trump. Specifically, the prosecution alleges that Trump, through his lawyer Michael Cohen, paid $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to dissuade Daniels from publicizing a sexual encounter between her and Trump. Before the election, Cohen paid Daniels the “hush-money” through a shell corporation he set up for that purpose. After the election, with the presidency secured, Trump reimbursed Cohen through monthly installments disguised as a retainer fee. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme.
Based on those facts, the indictment lists 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, in violation of Penal Law § 175.10. To be convicted, the prosecution must prove that, first, Trump falsely entered information into his business records, and, second, that he did so with an intent to commit, aid or conceal the commission of another crime. It is unclear what other crime Bragg will use to fill the second requirement under § 175.10.
Following the announcement of Trump’s indictment, Bragg issued 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. As the Statement of Facts describes, the trail of money and lies exposes a pattern that, the People allege, violates one of New York’s basic and fundamental business laws. As this office has done time and time again, we today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law.
The indictment of a former president is a watershed moment in American history. However, Trump is not the first American president to face criminal charges. In 1872, a black police officer arrested then President Ulysses Grant for speeding on his horse in Washington D.C. Grant posted collateral–amounting to about $400 in 2023–but failed to attend his trial the next day. Some legal scholars believe Grant’s no-show at his trial was a “silent guilty plea.”
Even more applicable to Trump’s legal woes is the draft indictment of Richard Nixon. Pardoned by President Gerald Ford September 8, 1974, Nixon never formally faced any charges, but the draft indictment reveals a grand jury willing to charge the former president with bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and obstruction of a criminal investigation.
There is an added layer of uncertainty as Trump is the first former president to be indicted while in the midst of a reelection campaign. The next court date in the case is scheduled for December 4, though it is unclear if Trump will attend. If convicted, Trump faces a maximum of four years prison.