Former President Donald Trump has been charged with 34 counts of felony falsifying business records to the first degree under New York Penal Law 175.10, unveiled at an arraignment hearing in Manhattan on Tuesday. He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Trump’s arraignment hearing commenced at around 2:15 p.m. ET on the 15th floor of the courthouse, kicking off the first court proceeding of an unprecedented case where a former U.S. president is facing criminal charges. Judge Juan Merchan presided over the arraignment hearing.
The charges mark a watershed moment in American history, which some analysts believe may hurl the country into a state of chronic dysfunction.
Trump pleaded not guilty at the hearing and waived his right to have the indictment read in court. After the hearing, Trump left at his own cognizance as is usually allowed with white-collar felony defendants. He is due to deliver a speech later tonight at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
The hearing came days after a grand jury voted to indict the former president on March 30.
The 16-page indictment and 13-page statement of facts, released on April 4 after Trump was arraigned, says that Trump falsified records related to multiple payments made to keep concealed negative information about him.
That includes the payment made to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who has claimed Trump had an affair with her, according to the charges.
The falsifying business records charge is normally a misdemeanor-level offense, with a statute of limitations of merely two years, which would have likely expired considering Trump allegedly made the payment in 2016.
Alan Dershowitz, a professor who taught at Harvard Law School for nearly fifty years, expressed skepticism of the legal grounds supporting Bragg’s case, saying he is using “made-up laws” to muster a politically motivated attack.
“Nobody should ever be arrested based on made-up laws or combining a federal and state statute,” Dershowitz told The Epoch Times in an interview on March 18. “I taught criminal law for 50 years at Harvard, and the one rule was, no creativity is permitted by prosecutors. The law has to be clear.”
“It’s not a righteous prosecution. It’s not a just prosecution. And I think every libertarian, whether you’re conservative, or liberal, should be opposed to it,” he said.
Motions to Dismiss
During the hearing, Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina declared intent to file a motion to dismiss charges on the basis that the prosecutors on the case have engaged in selective prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct.
That move echoed what Tacopina said on Fox News’s Hannity program late Monday night. The attorney said that the motion to dismiss will be part of a “host of motions” that the defense team will make.
“If the was not named Donald Trump, there would be no indictment,” the attorney told Hannity when asked to elaborate on his reasons for filing a motion to dismiss based on these grounds. “There would not be a case if this wasn’t Donald Trump,”
“And so that’s where you … we’re really gone amok here. You select the person you don’t like, Donald Trump, and you try to find a crime. So, it is mind-boggling to me that we’re here. We are here. But it’s just not going to hold up,” Tacopina added.
Defense Strategies to Watch
In media appearances prior to the hearing, Tacopina gave signals about the aspects that Trump’s defense team may be looking to tackle during the trial.
The first of these is the jury pool. When asked about the expected predominately-Democrat Manhattan jury on Hannity on Monday, Tacopina said that the defense team will try to appeal to the jury that the trial should not be centered on politics, but is instead about blind justice and a man’s life.
Another question that came up prior to the trial was whether it would be wise for the defense team to request moving the trial to a different district to Staten Island, where the potential jury pool is relatively more favorable to Trump.
Trump made a statement on Monday morning suggesting in favor of that idea. He suggested that the trial will take place in a “very unfair venue, with some areas that voted 1% Republican,” and that “the case should be moved to Staten Island.”
Tacopina has also laid out another defense strategy, which is questioning the credibility of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. It is believed that the case against Trump relies heavily on Cohen’s testimony.
He previously touched on this point in an interview with The Epoch Times.
“Of course, you can’t make a case on the word of Michael Cohen. He’s a pathological convicted liar—someone who has absolutely no credibility,” Tacopina said in an interview in March.
Cohen initially told media outlets in February 2018 that he paid the hush money out of his own pocket, but he later reversed this account in his guilty plea, claiming to have done so at Trump’s direction and that The Trump Organization reimbursed him through routine legal expenses. Trump has previously called the payment part of a monthly retainer given to Cohen and said the lawyer “entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties.” Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.
Cohen has rebutted allegations that he’s a liar, saying, “Truth is truth, and the documents in the possession of the [New York district attorney’s office] demonstrate this.”
Trump’s defense team may also make motions based on attorney-client privileges, Kaley added.
“We make motions, not because we necessarily think we’re gonna prevail, but because it might force the district attorney to disclose some information,” Kaley explained.
‘Breaks the Spell’
According to former Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Brien, the charge against Trump in Bragg’s case may facilitate the progression of other probes against Trump that may lead to a criminal charge, because it allows the other prosecutors to do without hesitation of pursuing an unprecedented persecution of a former president.
“It kind of breaks the spell, and maybe other prosecutors’ offices will get more active,” O’Brien said. “So you can see it can be done in this case, then it sort of emboldens other prosecutorial officers.”
Currently, the former president’s legal troubles—those potentially carrying criminal liabilities—include Bragg’s case; potential charges related to election interference in Georgia; a probe into Trump’s handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago property; and an investigation into Trump’s alleged interference with the transfer of power after the last presidential election.
Frank Fang contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times