NEW YORK (Reuters)—Donald Trump, the former U.S. president and front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, arrived at a Manhattan courthouse to be formally charged on Tuesday in a watershed moment as his supporters and detractors noisily rallied outside.
Trump, 76, is the first sitting or former president to face criminal charges. He was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury last week in a case stemming from a 2016 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, though the specific charges had yet to be disclosed.
Trump was driven to the courthouse in a motorcade after departing his New York residence at Trump Tower.
Trump, who has said he is innocent and is due to plead not guilty, was expected to surrender to the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg before an arraignment proceeding before Justice Juan Merchan. The arraignment, where Trump will be in court to hear charges and have a chance to enter a plea, was planned for 2:15 p.m. (1815 GMT).
“Today (Tuesday) is the day that a ruling political party ARRESTS its leading opponent for having committed NO CRIME,” Trump, who flew to New York from his Florida home on Monday, said in a fundraising email sent out on Tuesday morning.
On social media, Trump ahead of the arraignment renewed his attacks on Merchan, who last year also presided over a trial in which Trump’s real estate company was convicted of tax fraud.
Trump, who served as president from 2017 to 2021, in November announced a bid to regain the presidency in 2024 in a bid to deny Democratic President Joe Biden, who beat him in 2020, a second term in the White House.
On a cool and sunny early spring day in the most-populous U.S. city, Trump supporters and detractors were separated by barricades set up by police to try to keep order, though there were some confrontations.
“Let’s keep it civil, folks,” a police officer told them.
Hundreds of Trump supporters, at a park across from the Manhattan courthouse, cheered and blew whistles, outnumbering his detractors. The Trump critics held signs including one of Trump dressed in a striped jail uniform behind bars and another that read, “Lock Him Up.”
Typically, people facing arraignment are fingerprinted and have mugshot photographs taken. The court appearance was likely to be brief.
“It won’t be a long day in court,” Joseph Tacopina, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on ABC.
Yahoo News late on Monday reported that Trump would face 34 felony counts for falsification of business records.
Any trial is at least more than a year away, legal experts said. Being indicted or even convicted does not legally prevent Trump from running for president.
Five photographers will be admitted to the courtroom before the arraignment starts to take pictures for several minutes. Trump’s lawyers had urged a judge to keep them out, arguing they would worsen “an already almost circus-like atmosphere.”
Bragg, a Democrat who led the investigation, was set to give a news conference after the arraignment. Trump and his allies have portrayed the case as politically motivated.
TRUMP URGES VENUE CHANGE
In a social media post, Trump said Manhattan Criminal Court was a “very unfair venue” and urged that the case be moved to the New York City borough of Staten Island, which regularly votes Republican. It was unclear whether Trump’s lawyers would argue in court on Tuesday for a change of venue.
Trump will return to Florida and deliver remarks from his Mar-a-Lago resort at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday (0015 GMT on Wednesday), his office said.
Among the pro-Trump demonstrators was Gina Witcher, 55, of Maryland.
“We feel like this is a very scary indictment,” Witcher said, accusing Democratic prosecutors of going after conservatives for political reasons.
New Jersey resident Susan Cerbo, 55, wore an American flag cowboy hat as she and her sister stood on the steps of a church across the street from Trump Tower holding a “Trump for President” banner.
“Honestly, he’s just targeted because he’s a presidential candidate,” Cerbo said. “If you can do it to him with all his money and power, they can do it to any citizen of the United States.”
Manhattan resident Kim Britt, 69, was among the anti-Trump demonstrators.
“If anyone is above the law, then we’re not going to get anywhere,” said Britt, holding a sign reading, “Tick Tock Time’s Up!”
Bragg has faced harsh criticism from Trump. His office has received bomb threats in recent weeks. Security officials said they were unaware of credible threats surrounding Trump’s courtroom appearance.
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% of Republicans say they want Trump to be their party’s presidential nominee, up from 44% last month. Second-place Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fell from 30% to around 19%. More than two-thirds of poll respondents said they believed that Trump paid hush money to Daniels, but half said they thought the charges were politically motivated.
TRUMP FACES MULTIPLE LEGAL WOES
The Manhattan grand jury that indicted Trump heard evidence about a $130,000 payment to 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.
Trump faces a separate criminal probe by a Democratic local prosecutor in Georgia into whether he unlawfully tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the state. He also faces two U.S. Justice Department investigations led by a special counsel into efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Jody Godoy; Additional reporting by Julia Harte, Tyler Clifford, Jonathan Allen, Jeenah Moon and David Dee Delgado in New York, Nathan Layne in Connecticut and Doina Chiacu and Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Costas Pitas and Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham, Andy Sullivan and Howard Goller)