Trump returns to New York to face hush-money charges

New York: Donald Trump is en route to New York to face criminal charges in a hush money probe that will make him the first former US president to enter a courtroom as both a defendant and political candidate seeking re-election for the White House.

The 76-year-old left his Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, just after midday (US time) and was expected to arrive at Trump Tower in Manhattan by mid-afternoon, in what will the biggest security stress-test since the January 6 Capitol attack in 2021.

Supporters of Donald Trump outside the Trump International Golf Club in Florida.Credit:AP

“MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” the president posted on his Truth Social platform as his plane took off in Florida. “WITCH HUNT, as our once great Country is going to HELL!”

As Trump made his journey, the streets of Manhattan were filled with additional police, particularly around the office of District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who the former president and Republicans have accused of embarking on a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Amid fears of violence, extra barricades have been erected around the court precinct – including a downtown park where far-right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene is set to hold a protest rally on Tuesday morning – as well as Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, stretching out for several blocks.

“If there are any rabble-rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: control yourselves,” City Mayor Eric Adams warned at a press conference. “New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger.”

Trump was reportedly calm over the weekend despite the initial shock of the grand jury indictment last Thursday. The president played golf at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, embarked on a fundraising frenzy that he claims raised $4 million in 24 hours and railed against the case on his Truth Social platform.

Nonetheless, Tuesday’s arraignment is unprecedented, marking the first time a president has ever faced criminal charges, and will likely redefine the 2024 presidential race.

As Americans braced for the history-making moment, a small number of Trump fans gathered around the court to show their support for the former president.

A supporter of Donald Trump waves as his plane takes off from Palm Beach International Airport.Credit:AP

Among them was a 15-year-old student from Brooklyn who had skipped a school excursion and asked not to be identified.

Holding a “F–k Biden” flag, he echoed the Republican view about the Manhattan District Attorney investigating the case, telling The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald: “Alvin Bragg cannot do his job properly. He lets dangerous criminals walk the streets and lets innocent people get charged for no reason. So I decided to come here and show my American pride and be the best American I can be.”

Sitting nearby, an older man in a blue hoodie, who wanted to be identified only as “Good Citizen”, said he believed the indictment against Trump was “Destroying our country.”

“We look like the clowns of the world,” he said. “It just reeks of a political stunt to destroy his name but I think it’s going to backfire.”

Members of the media photograph a supporter of Donald Trump outside of Trump Tower in New York.Credit:Bloomberg

After arriving at the District Attorney’s on Tuesday, Trump will be taken into custody with his Secret Service detail, and officially arrested and fingerprinted.

While defendants are usually handcuffed, Trump’s lawyer Joe Tacopina has said he does not expect that to occur. Questions also remain over whether he will be required to have a mugshot taken amid concerns that the image will be leaked. (Under New York laws, it is illegal to release such photos).

After being processed, Trump will be taken through an internal route to the courtroom where the judge will arraign the former president and present him with the indictment detailing the charges against him.

Trump’s team has already said he will plead not guilty to the charges, which relate to a $130,000 hush-money payment that his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, paid to silence porn Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. Daniels claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006, soon after he married his first wife Melania. The former president, however insists this is not true.

“We will take the indictment, we will dissect it and the team will look at every potential issue that we will be able to challenge it – and we will challenge it,” Tacopina told CNN. “I very much anticipate a motion to challenge because there is no law that fits this.

As he heads into this unprecedented week, Trump – who was largely blamed for the Republicans’ poor showing at the midterm elections last November – now finds himself in the unusual position of receiving broad support from across his party.

One of the latest to weigh in was former attorney-general Bill Barr, who testified against Trump in the January 6 committee hearings. In a Fox News Sunday interview, Barr came to his former boss’s defence, criticising Bragg’s indictment and warning it would spark a wave of politically motivated prosecutions.

“I do think that this is a watershed moment, and I don’t think it’s going to end up good for the country,” he said.

A notable exception, however, was former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who announced over the weekend that he would also be seeking the Republican nomination to run for president next year – and suggested Trump should step down given he had been indicted.

“For the sake of the office of the presidency, I do think that’s too much of a sideshow and distraction,” said Hutchinson, a former lawyer and two time governor. “He needs to be able to concentrate on his due process.”

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