Trump, stone-faced, pleads not guilty in historic court appearance

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Donald Trump turned his head toward photographers as he sat, stone-faced with shoulders rounded, at the defense table in a downtown Manhattan courtroom. “Not guilty,” he said in a firm voice during a historic appearance before a judge Tuesday. Trump became the first U.S. president — former or current — to be charged with a crime.

Prosecutors state in a 34-count felony indictment that Trump conspired to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election through hush money payments to two women, including a porn performer, who said they had sexual encounters with him. In addition, charging documents say a payoff went to a doorman who claimed to have a story about an out-of-wedlock child allegedly fathered by Trump.

Earlier, Trump struck a defiant pose, raising a clenched fist as he exited Trump Tower for the short ride from midtown to lower Manhattan. He wore a dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie. Television news helicopters followed his motorcade’s route, allowing viewers around the world to see the former president arrive at New York County Criminal Court.

But demonstrators who gathered at a park across the street were unable to glimpse Trump as he made the short walk from his SUV into the courthouse for the arraignment. Trump supporters, many in red hats, decried the district attorney’s actions, while counter-protestors cheered the indictment. They were nearly outnumbered by police officers and journalists. The court appearance lasted about an hour and the small crowd dwindled after word spread that Trump had left the building.

Trump expressed incredulity Tuesday over his indictment, rallying supporters at his Florida estate for his first public remarks since being charged over hush money payments to a porn star.

“I never thought anything like this could happen in America — never thought it could happen,” he said, adding “the only crime that I’ve committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”

He added: “It’s an insult to our country.”

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