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.
Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina said Tuesday that the former president wouldn’t plead guilty to lesser charges, even if it might resolve the case. He said he didn’t believe the case would ever make it to a jury, but conceded, “Really, there’s a lot of mystery here because we’re doing something that’s never been done before.”
“I think there will be a typical processing, which does not take long, 20-30 minutes. There won’t be handcuffs,” Tacopina told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “But, yeah, he’ll be processed the way anyone else would be — to a degree.”
New York police are braced for 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.
Trump, a former reality TV star, has been hyping that narrative to his political advantage, saying he raised $8 million in the less than a week since the indictment on claims of a “witch hunt.” He has 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.
Though police said they had no intelligence suggesting any violence was likely, they were on high alert for any potential disruptions.
“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. He also singled out Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of Trump’s staunchest supporters in Congress, who is organizing a rally Tuesday at a park across from the courthouse: “While you’re in town, be on your best behavior,” 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. In a post late Monday night on his social media network he lashed out at Biden, suggesting the current president should be facing legal troubles of his own.
Despite that, the scene around Trump Tower and the courthouse where Trump will stand before a judge was mostly quiet. There were some arguments, but police tried to keep protesters supporting the former president and those opposing him apart, confining them to separate sides of the nearby park using metal barricades.
Signs that were also pro- and anti-Trump were stuck to nearby posts. One urged passers-by to donate to help fund Trump’s presidential library while another showed a shouting Trump behind bars.
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.
Though prosecutors routinely insist that no person is above the law, bringing criminal charges against a former president carries instant logistical complications.
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.
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.