NEW YORK — Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to his alleged role in hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The not guilty plea marked the first time a former president has had to plead to criminal charges.
The indictment was unsealed and read out in a Manhattan courtroom in a proceeding led by Judge Juan Merchan. The prosecution laid out their case, saying Trump made illegal payments to affect the 2016 election. If convicted, Trump could face a maximum of four years in prison.
“Not guilty,” Trump replied when he was asked for his plea.
Merchan set the next court date for December 4.
The indictment said Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.” It went on to mention the three people the former president allegedly paid off were Daniels, Playboy model Karen McDougal and a former Trump Tower doorman who’d claimed to have a story about a child Trump had.
Daniels was paid $130,000 by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen. McDougal and the doorman were paid $150,000 and $30,000, respectively.
Trump returned to Florida after his court appearance and spoke to supporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate, proclaiming his innocence while slamming Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the Democrats.
“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” Trump said. “The only crime I’ve committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”
Speaking for less than 30 minutes, Trump was quieter than normal, seemingly absorbed by the day’s events and the likely long legal fight ahead of him.
“We are a nation in decline, and now these radical left lunatics want to interfere in elections by using law enforcement,” he added.