By Ivan Pentchoukov
NEW YORK—Donald Trump, former president and frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, pleaded not guilty in New York on April 4 to an unprecedented indictment brought by the Manhattan district attorney.
News of the historic indictment on March 30 set off several days of media mania which culminated on Tuesday in coverage of Trump’s motorcade ride through his beloved hometown en route to voluntarily surrender himself at the offices of New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg and hear his charges at the New York Supreme Court.
In a return to the saga which began shortly after he won the 2016 election, the district attorney charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection to a payment for a non-disclosure agreement signed by adult entertainment actress Stormy Daniels and Trump’s then-attorney, Michael Cohen.
For a president who faced an unprecedented second impeachment, a yearslong aggressive inquiry into alleged collusion with Russia, and the raid of his private residence, the Manhattan indictment is the latest, most dramatic episode in what he and his supporters see as the weaponization of government against a political opponent.
The charges by Bragg, a Democrat elected in a deep blue county, are a particular fit for the pattern because the district attorney has only recently directed his office to not prosecute certain armed robberies, burglaries, prostitution, and drug offenses.
In a small park outside the courthouse in downtown Manhattan, hours prior to Trump’s arrival, police set up barricades to separate Trump’s supporters from those celebrating his indictment. With heavy news media presence in and around the park, arguments between the Trump’s supporters and counter-protesters quickly drew dozens of cameras.
The scene grew cacophonous and tense with the arrival of Rep. Marjorie Greene (R-Ga.), who spoke briefly in Trump’s defense before handing the bullhorn to a group of conservative pundits, including Jack Posobiec. A team of NYPD officers briefly struggled to keep the crowd of media and attendees at bay as Green made her way atop a bench.
“I came to peacefully protest against the persecution of an innocent man,” she said. “And not just any man. This is the former president of the United States of America and the government has been weaponized against him.”
A handful of hecklers blew whistles and shouted obscenities as Greene spoke.
“Every American should take a stand. This is what happens in communist countries. Not the United States of America,” she said. “Donald Trump is innocent. This is election interference.”
Trump first spoke of the potentiality of an indictment on March 18, writing on Truth Social that he expected to be arrested the following week.
“Protest, take our nation back!” he said at the time.
The prosecutors secured an indictment against Trump on March 30, according to the former president’s attorneys.
The scene outside of Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan was more subdued than the cacophony next to the courthouse. Television cameras live-streamed footage of the tower entrances throughout the morning. Trump waved and pumped his fist upon exiting the tower, which was the site of his 2016 presidential campaign announcement and the early days of the presidential transition.
It was in his office in Trump Tower that then-FBI Director James Comey briefed Trump about a dossier of unverified allegations that the bureau was already investigating. The dossier turned out to have been funded by the Clinton campaign and composed by a Russian national working for a former British spy. The years-long Russia investigation that followed failed to verify any of the dossier’s allegations about Trump.
In a Truth Social message sent while he was still en route to the courthouse, Trump wrote: “Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME. Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”
The Secret Service motorcade arrived at the courthouse around 12:20 p.m. After exiting a black SUV, Trump waved toward a battery of cameras set up across the street from the roadblock and walked briskly up the stree into a side door of the building at 100 Centre Street.
In a White House briefing that began around the time Trump arrived downtown, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on the indictment.
“Trump’s indictment is not our focus,” Jean-Pierre said. “Our focus right now is American people and how to lower prices.”
All of Trump’s major Republican 2024 presidential primary opponents, including those who have not yet announced a run, condemned the indictment and defended the former president. The cohesion at a time when the frontrunner would usually be perceived in a vulnerable spot, suggests Republicans are genuinely concerned about government weaponization. The candidates may also be playing a delicate game of running on the Trump agenda while running against the man who galvanized unyielding passion for the platform among the base of Republican voters.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called the move by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg un-American. Former Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on CNN the same evening, called it “a bad decision by a political prosecutor.” Nikki Haley, who unlike Pence and DeSantis has made her presidential bid official, said “this is more about revenge than it is about justice.”
There is no consensus on what impact the indictment will have on the 2024 election. The Trump campaign raised $7 million in the three days following news of the indictment, according to Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller. For Trump’s supporters, the parallel between the treatment of Jan. 6 protesters and Tuesday’s arrest could validate the former president’s warnings about a government which has turned against a swath of the people whom it is supposed to serve.
“They’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you—I’m just standing in their way,” Trump’s Truth Social profile bio states.
In the case of Stormy Daniels, the hand of justice appears to have struck at those who went after Trump. Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, enjoyed months of media fame and glory before facing indictments in three criminal cases. He was found guilty of attempted extortion, wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and obstruction. He is in prison with a release date set for March 2, 2036.
Daniels was ordered to pay $293,052 in attorney fees after a judge dismissed her defamation case against Trump. The key witness against Trump will be Michael Cohen, his former attorney. Cohen went to prison in May 2019 after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges linked to the Stormy Daniels non-disclosure agreement. A former Federal Elections Commission chairman told The Epoch Times at the time that the charges Cohen pleaded guilty to were not crimes.