NEW YORK/PALM BEACH: A plane carrying former US President Donald Trump flew from Florida to New York City on Monday to face charges stemming from an investigation into hush money paid to a porn star while his lawyers argued against allowing cameras in the courtroom.
With New York taking security precautions and the mayor telling any potential rabble-rousers to behave, Trump was due to surrender at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday and will likely be fingerprinted before appearing before a judge for an arraignment where he will plead not guilty.
Trump, a Republican seeking to regain the presidency in 2024, is the first former US president to face criminal charges.
Beefing up his legal team, Trump hired Todd Blanche, a prominent white-collar criminal defence lawyer and former federal prosecutor, to lead his defence, two sources familiar with the matter said. Blanche and other Trump lawyers on Monday urged the judge not to allow videography, photography and radio coverage of the arraignment.
In a letter to the court, they argued against allowing such coverage, saying it would “exacerbate an already almost circus-like atmosphere around this case” and “detract from both the dignity and decorum of the proceedings and courtroom.”
Justice Juan Merchan was expected to decide the matter on Monday.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said it would leave it to the discretion of the judge, but noted that Merchan allowed a limited number of still photos before last year’s criminal trial in which Trump’s real estate company was convicted of tax fraud.
Before the indictment, a Manhattan grand jury heard evidence about a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy 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. Trump denies having had any such relationship with her.
Blanche previously represented Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, when Manafort was hit with New York state fraud charges after being sentenced to prison for federal crimes. The state charges were eventually dismissed and Trump pardoned Manafort before leaving office. Blanche also previously represented Igor Fruman, who was an associate of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The specific charges in the indictment by a grand jury convened by Bragg, a Democrat, have yet to be disclosed. Trump has said he is innocent. He and his allies have portrayed the charges as politically motivated.
A motorcade of several vehicles took Trump from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach to the airport in nearby West Palm Beach. Trump climbed out of an SUV vehicle before he and members of his entourage climbed a set of stairs to enter his plane, painted in red, white and blue with “TRUMP” in big letters on the side and an image of the American flag on the tail.
“WITCH HUNT, as our once great Country is going to HELL!” Trump posted on social media right before he departed.
‘Our country has fallen,’ Trump campaign asserts
Trump’s campaign raised $7 million in the three days after word of the indictment emerged last Thursday, senior adviser Jason Miller said. The campaign on Monday issued the latest in a series of fundraising emails, aiming for the media’s reporting on his indictment.
Remarks attributed to Trump in the email stated: “Our country has fallen. But I’m not giving up on America. We can and we will save our nation in 2024.”
A court official said the arraignment was planned for 2:15 p.m. (1815 GMT) on Tuesday. Trump then will return to Florida and deliver remarks from Mar-a-Lago at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday (0015 GMT on Wednesday), his office said.
The New York case is one of several probes Trump faces.
Trump said earlier on social media he would go to Trump Tower in Manhattan after arriving in New York, then would head to the courthouse on Tuesday morning.
A few dozen Trump fans cheered at the Florida airport and along the route he took to get there, carrying signs and flags.
“Our country needs him,” said Cindy Falco, 65, of Boynton Beach, Florida. “He’s pro-God, pro-family and pro-country.”
Falco predicted exoneration, saying: “Nothing is going to stick to him.”
Trump’s detractors also weighed in.
“Isn’t it ironic that they couldn’t get Donald Trump for all of the crimes he’s committed, except payment to a porn star?” said New Jersey resident Robert Hoatson, 71, outside of Trump Tower. “It always comes down to the lowliest of charges.”
“It’s a terrific day. I hope it goes well and that he is eventually found guilty,” Hoatson added.
Mayor calls for protesters to be on ‘best behaviour’
New York police over the weekend began erecting barricades near Trump Tower and the Manhattan Criminal Court building. Demonstrations were expected at those sites on Tuesday.
Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, said there was no known specific security threat.
“While there may be some rabble-rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow (Tuesday), our message is clear and simple: Control yourselves. New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger,” Adams told reporters.
“As always, we will not allow violence or vandalism of any kind. And if one is caught participating in any act of violence, they will be arrested and held accountable no matter who you are,” Adams added, specifically mentioning Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has announced plans to protest.
“Be on your best behaviour,” the mayor said.
Trump, 76, served as president from 2017 to 2021 and in November launched a bid to win the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, aiming to deny Democratic President Joe Biden a second term in office.