Trump pleads not guilty to 34 charges

Donald Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, making him the first former US president to face a criminal trial.

Appearing in a Manhattan court, Trump pleaded not guilty after his formal arrest earlier on Tuesday.

As predicted, most of the charges stem from an alleged hush-money payment to a porn star in the days before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump, 76, has denied any wrongdoing in the case.

A stony-faced Trump said nothing as he left the courtroom after his arraignment. He is expected to return immediately to his Florida home Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday evening, where he plans to deliver remarks at 8:15 p.m. local time.

The case hinges on hush money payments made to two women before the 2016 presidential election to keep them from speaking about sexual encounters they say they had with Trump.

They are not named in the legal documents, but Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said Trump had arranged for $130 000 to be paid to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, says he made the payment at Trump’s direction to keep Daniels quiet about her affair with the then-candidate.

The second payment, for $150 000, was reportedly made to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy magazine Playmate of the Year. It was made by US tabloid the National Enquirer, as part of an alleged “catch and kill” scheme, where an outlet buys the rights to a story but withholds publication – preventing publication by other outlets.

According to prosecutors, the National Enquirer admitted to paying a source of a story to ensure that person “did not publicise damaging allegations” about Trump before the 2016 election.

Hush money agreements are not illegal, but Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg has been investigating whether business records were falsified in relation to the payment.

The odds of a conviction are so far unclear but the charges against Trump – who has already launched his third bid for the White House – have pulled the country into unchartered political territory.

While a criminal conviction would not prevent Trump from either running for president or from re-claiming the Oval Office, the prolonged legal fight may be a major distraction for the Republican front-runner, and will add a new layer of turmoil to his party’s primary. (BBC)

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