NEW YORK (AP) – An extraordinary moment in U.S. history will unfold in a Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday: Former President Donald Trump, who faces multiple election-related investigations, will surrender and be arraigned on criminal charges stemming from 2016 hush money payments.
The booking and appearance before Judge Juan Merchan should be relatively brief – though hardly routine – as Trump is fingerprinted, learns the charges against him and pleads, as expected, not guilty. Merchan has ruled that TV cameras won’t be allowed in the courtroom.
Trump, who was impeached twice by the U.S. House but was never convicted in the U.S. Senate, will become the first former president to face criminal charges. The nation’s 45th commander in chief will be escorted from Trump Tower to the courthouse by the Secret Service and may have his mug shot taken.
“He is strong and ready to go,” Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina said outside court. Earlier, Tacopina told ABC’s ”Good Morning America“ that the former president wouldn’t plead guilty to lesser charges, even if it might resolve the case, and that he didn’t think the case would make it to a jury.
New York police said they were ready for large protests by Trump supporters, who share the Republican former president’s belief that the New York grand jury indictment and three additional pending investigations are politically motivated and intended to weaken his bid to retake the White House in 2024. Journalists often outnumbered protesters, though.
Trump, a former reality TV star, has been hyping that narrative to his political advantage, saying he raised more than $8 million in the less than a week since the indictment on claims of a “witch hunt.” His campaign released a fundraising politicization titled “My last email before arrest” and he has repeatedly assailed the Manhattan district attorney, egged on supporters to protest and claimed without evidence that the judge presiding over the case “hates me” – something his own lawyer has said is not true.
Trump is scheduled to return to his Palm Beach, Florida, home, Mar-a-Lago, on Tuesday evening to hold a rally, punctuating his new reality: submitting to the dour demands of the American criminal justice system while projecting an aura of defiance and victimhood at celebratory campaign events. At least 500 prominent supporters have been invited, with some of the most pro-Trump congressional Republicans expected to attend.
A conviction would not prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.
Inside the Manhattan courtroom, prosecutors led by New York’s district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, are expected to unseal the indictment issued last week by a grand jury. This is when Trump and his defense lawyers will get their first glimpse of the precise allegations against him.
The indictment contains multiple charges of falsifying business records, including at least one felony offense, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press last week.
After the arraignment, Trump is expected to be released by authorities because the charges against him don’t require that bail be set.
The investigation is scrutinizing six-figure payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both say they had sexual encounters with the married Trump years before he got into politics. Trump denies having sexual liaisons with either woman and has denied any wrongdoing involving payments.
The arraignment will unfold against the backdrop of heavy security in New York, coming more than two years after Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed bid to halt the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s win.
“While there may be some rabble rousers thinking of coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: Control yourselves,” Mayor Eric Adams said.
Trump pollster John McLaughlin said the former president would approach the day with “dignity.”
“He will be a gentleman,” McLaughlin said. “He’ll show strength and he’ll show dignity and … we’ll get through this and win the election.”
But Trump was also defiant. He used his social media network to complain that he was going to court in a heavily Democratic area, declaring, “KANGAROO COURT” and “THIS IS NOT WHAT AMERICA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!” He and his campaign have repeatedly assailed Bragg and even trained scrutiny on members of his family.
Despite that, the scenes around Trump Tower and the courthouse where Trump will stand before a judge were mostly quiet. Police tried to keep apart protesters supporting the former president and those opposing him by confining them to separate sides of a park near the courthouse using metal barricades.
Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress, organized a rally at the park Tuesday, but it was tough to hear her over the crush of reporters and protesters for and against Trump. Like Greene, embattled Republican New York Rep. George Santos was showing solidarity with Trump, saying, “I want to support the president.”
“I think this is unprecedented and it’s a bad day for democracy,” Santos told The Associated Press, suggesting that future prosecutors could target Biden and other presidents with other cases, which “cheapens the judicial system.”
One demonstrator hoisted a sign reading “Trump or death 1776 2024,” but others carried placards showed images of Trump in prison.
The public fascination with the case was evident Monday as national television carried live images of Trump’s motorcade from his Mar-a-Lago club to a private, red, white and blue Boeing 757 stenciled with his name. From there, Trump was flown to New York, where cameras followed his motorcade into Manhattan and he spent the night at Trump Tower as he prepared to turn himself in.
The former president and his aides are embracing the media circus. After initially being caught off guard when news of the indictment broke Thursday evening, Trump and his team are hoping to use the case to his advantage. Still, they asked the judge in a Monday filing to ban photo and video coverage of the arraignment.
New York’s ability to carry out safe and drama-free courthouse proceedings in a case involving a polarizing ex-president could be an important test case as prosecutors in Atlanta and Washington conduct their own investigations of Trump that could also result in charges. Those investigations concern efforts to undo the 2020 election results as well as the possible mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Many top Republicans, including some of Trump’s potential rivals in next year’s GOP presidential primary, have criticized the case against him. Biden, who has yet to formally announce that he’s seeking reelection next year, and other leading Democrats have largely had little to say about it.
Prosecutors insist their case against Trump has nothing to do with politics.
Tucker and Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press journalists Jill Colvin, Bobby Caina Calvan, Larry Neumeister, Karen Matthews, Larry Fleisher, Deepti Hajela, Julie Walker, Ted Shaffrey, David R. Martin, Joe Frederick and Robert Bumsted in New York and Colleen Long and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.