Former President Donald Trump was charged by a New York grand jury with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in an indictment unsealed Tuesday, with prosecutors detailing an alleged years-long scheme to use “hush money” payments to suppress damaging information before the 2016 election.
In a historic, highly choreographed appearance that followed strict security protocols, Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges at a hearing in a lower Manhattan courtroom, becoming the first former president to face criminal prosecution. He has denied all wrongdoing and said District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, is motivated by politics in bringing the case.
In a 16-page indictment and accompanying statement of facts, prosecutors said Trump “orchestrated a scheme with others to influence the 2016 presidential election by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the Defendant’s electoral prospects.”
They said the scheme involved three payments made by Trump allies to conceal damaging stories: $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who said Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock; $150,000 to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with Trump; and $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who also alleged an affair. Trump has denied having affairs with both women, and the company that paid the former doorman determined his story was false.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and “fixer,” made the payment to Daniels in the days before the 2016 election. Prosecutors said Trump illegally disguised his reimbursement to Cohen by classifying them as legal fees.
“The payment records, kept and maintained by the Trump Organization, were false New York business records. In truth, there was no retainer agreement, and Lawyer A was not being paid for legal services rendered in 2017,” the statement of facts said, referring to Cohen. “The Defendant caused his entities’ business records to be falsified to disguise his and others’ criminal conduct.”
Falsifying business records is typically a misdemeanor under New York law, but can be charged as a felony if done with an “intent to defraud [that] includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof.” Prosecutors said Trump’s conduct was intended to violate election laws.
At the end of the hearing, the former president was released and soon boarded a flight home to Florida, where he is set to deliver remarks to supporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday evening.