By Karen Freifeld, Luc Cohen and Tyler Clifford
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump, the ex-president and frontrunner to be the 2024 Republican nominee, faces a mugshot, fingerprinting and court appearance next week after he was charged over an investigation into hush-hush money paid to a porn star in a historic US premiere.
The possible spectacle of Trump’s appearance in Manhattan before a judge with the media camped outside could further divide the world’s most powerful country.
The specific charges against Trump are not yet known as the indictment remains classified, but CNN reported Thursday that Trump faced more than 30 charges related to business fraud.
Trump, 76, said he was “completely innocent” and accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the Democrat leading the investigation, of attempting to interfere with his election chances.
“This is political persecution and election interference at the highest level in history,” Trump said in a statement.
Shortly thereafter, Trump appealed to supporters to provide money for a legal defense.
According to his campaign, he has raised over $2 million since March 18 and called on people to protest.
A small number of supporters gathered at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Thursday and waved flags along the freeway while a critic of the former president held a sign near the New York City Attorney’s office that read: ” Lock him up and throw him away the key”.
Authorities have been beefing up security around the Manhattan Courthouse after Trump earlier this month called for nationwide protests and recalled his charged rhetoric before his supporters attacked the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Neither the White House nor President Joe Biden, a Democrat widely expected to seek re-election in a potential rematch against Trump, commented Thursday.
But the party’s top senator, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, called for things to run smoothly.
“I encourage both critics and supporters of Mr. Trump to let the trial proceed peacefully and in accordance with the law,” he said in a statement.
The Manhattan Inquiry is just one of several legal challenges affecting Trump.
Trump also faces a separate criminal investigation into whether he unlawfully attempted to overturn his 2020 Georgia election loss and two investigations by a special counsel, including his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
The indictments in Manhattan are likely to be unsealed by a judge in the coming days, at which point Trump will need to travel there for fingerprinting and other procedures.
According to a court official, he is expected to appear before a judge next week, where the charges will be officially read.
Trump’s attorneys, Susan Necheles and Joseph Tacopina, said they would “vehemently fight” the allegations.
Trump drew support from a number of his potential challengers for the Republican nomination Thursday, including Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and former Vice President Mike Pence.
“This will only serve to further divide our country,” Pence said.
Trump could use the case to stoke anger among his core supporters, though other Republican voters may tire of the drama.
About 44% of Republicans said he should drop out of the race if impeached, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last week.
As president between 2017 and 2021, Trump regularly clashed with traditional American allies in the West over issues such as trade and defense spending, and used fiery rhetoric.
Trump’s style has been emulated by other world leaders, and he has criticized US support for Ukraine after the Russian invasion.
Trump has avoided legal dangers on multiple occasions.
At the White House, he survived two attempts by Congress to remove him from office over the attack by supporters on the US Capitol and the probe into his campaign’s contacts with Russia in 2016.
Manhattan prosecutors successfully prosecuted Trump’s business for tax fraud last year, resulting in a $1.61 million fine.
According to a person familiar with the matter, the presiding judge in that case, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, is expected to also oversee Daniels’ case.
Legal experts say Bragg is likely to argue Trump falsified business records to cover up another crime, such as violating federal campaign finance law, making it a felony.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she was paid for keeping quiet about a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
The former president’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, said he coordinated with Trump over payments to Daniels and a second woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also said she had a sexual relationship with him.
Trump has denied having affairs with either woman.
Trump initially denied knowing anything about the payment to Daniels in 2018. He later admitted to refunding Cohen the payment, which he described as a “simple private transaction.”
“No one is above the law,” Daniels’ attorney Clark Brewster said on Twitter.
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2018 and served more than a year in prison. Federal prosecutors said he acted on Trump’s instructions.
Cohen said he stands by his testimony and the evidence he provided to prosecutors.
“Accountability is important,” he said in a statement.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Costas Pitas; editing by Lincoln Feast.)
Source : news.yahoo.com