Trump faces day in court, a first in US

Former US president Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower in New York, Monday, April 3, 2023. (PHOTO / AP)

NEW YORK, April 4 (Reuters) – Donald Trump, the ex-president and front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2024, will appear in court on Tuesday to be fingerprinted, photographed and formally charged in a watershed moment ahead of next year's presidential election.

Indicted last week, Trump is the first sitting or former president to face criminal charges, over a case involving a 2016 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. He has said he is innocent and is due to plead not guilty.

The Manhattan grand jury that indicted Trump heard evidence for months this year about a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign

Trump, 76, will turn himself in on Tuesday amid tight security and street protests.

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"We have to take back our Country and, MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" Trump wrote on social media shortly after arriving in New York from Florida on Monday.

The arraignment, where Trump will be in court to hear charges and have a chance to enter a plea, was planned for 2:15 pm (1815 GMT) on Tuesday.

The specific charges reached by a grand jury are due to be disclosed on Tuesday. Yahoo News late on Monday said Trump would face 34 felony counts for falsification of business records. Any trial is at least more than a year away, legal experts said.

Judge Juan Merchan late on Monday ruled that five photographers will be admitted before the arraignment starts to take pictures for several minutes. Trump's lawyers had urged him to keep them out, arguing they would worsen "an already almost circus-like atmosphere."

The District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, who led the investigation, will give a news conference afterwards. Trump and his allies have portrayed the case as politically motivated.

Trump will return to Florida and deliver remarks from his Mar-a-Lago resort at 8:15 pm on Tuesday (0015 GMT on Wednesday), his office said.

Protests and popularity

Police over the weekend began erecting barricades near Trump Tower – where Trump stayed on Monday – and the Manhattan Criminal Court building, with demonstrations expected at both sites on Tuesday.

Mayor Eric Adams warned potential rabble-rousers to behave.

"Our message is clear and simple: Control yourselves. New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger," he told reporters.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat who is widely expected to seek re-election and face a potential rematch against Trump, said he had faith in the New York police.

The case has divided people in New York, where Trump's name is emblazoned on buildings related to his business ventures.

"It's a terrific day. I hope it goes well and that he is eventually found guilty," said New Jersey resident Robert Hoatson, 71, outside Trump Tower on Monday.

Susan Miller, leaning against the metal barriers on 5th Avenue just south of Trump Tower on Monday evening, said she hoped the show of support would "give him a little strength."

"He’s honest as the day is long,” she said.

Trump's lead has widened over rivals in the Republican Party's presidential nominating contest, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Monday, conducted after news broke that he would face criminal charges.

Some 48 percent of Republicans say they want Trump to be their party's presidential nominee, up from 44 percent last month. Second-place Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fell from 30 percent to around 19 percent.

Multiple legal woes

The Manhattan grand jury that indicted Trump 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 a sexual relationship but has acknowledged reimbursing his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for the payment.

In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance law violations and was sentenced to three years in prison.

He testified in the Manhattan investigation last month.

An indictment, or even a conviction, do not legally prevent Trump from running for president.

Trump hired Todd Blanche, a prominent criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, to join his legal team, two sources said.

Trump also faces a separate criminal probe into whether he unlawfully tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the state of Georgia, and investigations by the Justice Department into the election and his handling of classified documents after leaving office.

Trump's campaign raised $7 million in the three days after word of the indictment emerged last Thursday, according to senior adviser Jason Miller.

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Leading potential challengers for the nomination, including DeSantis and Trump's former vice president Mike Pence, have publicly rallied around Trump in recent days. Only one 2024 rival, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, has said he should drop out.

"We need a leader in our country that can bring out the best of America and not appeal to our worst instincts," he told Reuters.

In an interview with Britain's Times newspaper on Friday, Daniels called the indictment "vindication."