Trump arrives in New York for surrender, opposes TV court coverage
NEW YORK/PALM BEACH - Former US President Donald Trump flew into New York City on his private plane on Monday to face charges stemming from a probe into hush money paid to a porn star, while his lawyers argued against letting cameras in the courtroom.
With New York taking security precautions and the mayor telling potential rabble-rousers to behave, Trump was due to surrender at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday and will likely be fingerprinted prior to appearing before a judge for an arraignment where he will plead not guilty.
Trump, a 76-year-old Republican seeking to regain the presidency in 2024, is the first former US president to face criminal charges.
His plane - painted in red, white and blue with “TRUMP” in big letters on the side and an image of the American flag on the tail - arrived at LaGuardia Airport in Queens after a 3½ hour flight from West Palm Beach near his Florida home.
Clad in a blue suit and wearing a red tie, Trump walked deliberately and alone down a flight of stairs from the airplane and climbed into an SUV for a drive in a motorcade to Trump Tower in Manhattan.
He got out of the vehicle, waved to people behind barricades set up by police for security purposes and walked into Trump Tower while making no public comments.
Beefing up his legal team, Trump hired Todd Blanche, a prominent white-collar criminal defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, to join his defense, two sources familiar with the matter said. Blanche and other Trump lawyers on Monday urged the judge not to allow videography, photography and radio coverage of the arraignment.
In a letter to the court, they argued against allowing such coverage, saying it would “exacerbate an already almost circus-like atmosphere around this case” and “detract from both the dignity and decorum of the proceedings and courtroom.”
Justice Juan Merchan was expected to decide the matter on Monday.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said it would leave it to the discretion of the judge, but noted that Merchan allowed a limited number of still photos prior to last year’s criminal trial in which Trump’s real estate company was convicted of tax fraud.
The Manhattan grand jury that indicted Trump heard evidence for months this year about a US$130,000 (S$172,536) 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 having had any such relationship with her.
Blanche previously represented Paul Manafort, Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, when Manafort was hit with New York state fraud charges after being sentenced to prison for federal crimes. The state charges were eventually dismissed and Trump pardoned Manafort before leaving office. Blanche also previously represented Igor Fruman, who was an associate of former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.
The specific charges in the indictment by a grand jury convened by Bragg, a Democrat, have yet to be disclosed. Trump has said he is innocent. He and his allies have portrayed the charges as politically motivated.
A motorcade of several vehicles took Trump at midday from his Mar-a-Lago estate to the airport in nearby West Palm Beach. Trump climbed out of an SUV vehicle before he and members of his entourage climbed a set of stairs to enter his plane.
“WITCH HUNT, as our once great Country is going to HELL!” Trump posted on social media right before he left Florida.
Trump said on social media he would head to the courthouse on Tuesday morning.
‘Our country has fallen,’ Trump campaign asserts
Trump’s campaign raised US$7 million in the three days after word of the indictment emerged last Thursday, senior adviser Jason Miller said. The campaign on Monday issued the latest in a series of fundraising emails, taking aim at the media’s reporting on his indictment.
Remarks attributed to Trump in the email stated: “Our country has fallen. But I’m not giving up on America. We can and we will save our nation in 2024.”
A court official said the arraignment was planned for 2:15 p.m. (1815 GMT) on Tuesday. Trump then will return to Florida and deliver remarks from Mar-a-Lago at 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday (0015 GMT on Wednesday), his office said.
The New York case is one of several probes Trump faces.
A few dozen Trump fans cheered at the Florida airport and along the route he took to get there, carrying signs and flags.
“Our country needs him,” said Cindy Falco, 65, of Boynton Beach, Florida. “He’s pro-God, pro-family and pro-country.”
Falco predicted exoneration, saying: “Nothing is going to stick to him.”
Trump’s detractors also weighed in.
“Isn’t it ironic that they couldn’t get Donald Trump for all of the crimes he’s committed, except payment to a porn star?“ said New Jersey resident Robert Hoatson, 71, outside of Trump Tower. “It always comes down to the lowliest of charges.”
“It’s a terrific day. I hope it goes well and that he is eventually found guilty,” Hoatson added. — REUTERS