Trump turned himself in for a historic court hearing in New York on Tuesday, amid tight security and a global media frenzy, as the Republican billionaire became the first American president in history to face criminal charges.
The hearing, which is being broadcast live on television, marks a watershed moment for the US criminal and political systems, with the potential to upend the 2024 White House race, in which Trump is currently the leading Republican nominee.
Trump, 76, is expected to enter a not guilty plea to a slew of charges related to hush money paid to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election that propelled him to power.
“Seems so SURREAL — WOW, they are going to ARREST ME,” Trump posted on his Truth Social app as he headed to the courthouse from Trump Tower, where he spent the night after flying from Florida.
“Can’t believe this is happening in America. MAGA!”
The twice-impeached Republican is the first sitting or former American president to face criminal charges, ushering the country into uncharted political territory.
As Trump’s motorcade made the short drive to court, police lined the streets and helicopters buzzed overhead. The journey was live-streamed on US networks, but cameras were not permitted during the hearing.
Trump waved to supporters as he exited his car and entered the complex, which was guarded by the US Secret Service. He was not subjected to a “perp walk,” in which a defendant in handcuffs is escorted past media cameras.
The former president was scheduled to be fingerprinted — and possibly photographed, which would result in an all-time famous mug shot — at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
He will then learn what charges he faces at his arraignment, which is scheduled to begin at 2:15 p.m. (1615 GMT). According to his lawyers, Trump was scheduled to enter a not guilty plea on all counts.
Protests Outside Court
Trump claims he is the victim of “political persecution” — but is also using the court case to energize his support base and raise millions of dollars for his bid to reclaim the White House.
He plans to speak to reporters as he walks through the hallways toward court, one of his attorneys told CNN.
“THE RADICAL LEFT DEMOCRATS HAVE CRIMINALIZED THE JUSTICE SYSTEM,” Trump posted hours before the hearing, branding the proceedings a “kangaroo court.”
Hundreds of people gathered outside the venue, including Trump supporters, anti-Trump demonstrators, media, and curious bystanders.
Police intervened as supporters of Trump yelled slurs at counterprotesters while wearing “MAGA” hats and attire emblazoned with the American flag.
The anti-Trump camp waved a large banner that read “Trump lies all the time” and chanted “Lock him up!” while Trump supporters waved a flag that read “Trump or Death.”
During the arraignment, which is expected to last about 15 minutes, approximately 30 counts, including at least one felony, are expected to be unsealed.
Afterward, Trump is due to return straight to Florida, where he plans to deliver an evening speech.
A grand jury indicted Trump last week in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat.
The charges stem from an investigation into a $130,000 payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before Trump’s election victory.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and aide who has turned against his ex-boss, claims he arranged the payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence about a 2006 tryst she claims she had with Trump.
Trump denies the affair, despite the fact that his third wife, Melania, had just given birth at the time.
Legal experts have suggested that if the payment is not properly accounted for, it could result in charges for falsifying business records, possibly to cover up a campaign finance violation.
Trump is the subject of a number of separate criminal investigations at the state and federal levels, which could lead to additional — and more serious — charges between now and Election Day.
They include his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia, his handling of classified documents, and his possible involvement in the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol.
President Joe Biden is one of the few Democrats holding back on the indictment of his rival, fearful that anything he says will fuel Trump’s claim of a politically “weaponized” judicial system.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would “catch part of the news when he has a moment,” but insisted: “This is not something that’s a focus for him.”
Republicans meanwhile have largely rallied around Trump, including his rival in the party’s presidential primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who called the indictment “un-American.”