Former U.S. President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges of reporting false business records.
The charges came after an investigation into payments to an adult movie performer during his 2016 presidential campaign. The money was aimed at buying the silence of the performer.
Trump sat with his hands folded as he entered the plea: "Not guilty."
Trump is the first U.S. president to face criminal charges either in or out of office. He is also a leading candidate for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential campaign.
The indictment accused Trump of “intent to defraud and intent to commit another crime” and then to try to hide it. The indictment listed 34 counts of falsifying business records under New York State law. A count is a separate crime.
The 16-page indictment contains new details about a plan to pay off two women who said they had sexual contact with Trump. It also contains information about payment to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he said the former president had outside of his marriage.
In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said, “The People of the State of New York allege that Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”
Todd Blanche is a lawyer for Trump. He told reporters after the hearing, "We're going to fight it. We're going to fight it hard,"
Falsifying business records in New York on its own is a misdemeanor, or not a serious crime, punishable by no more than one year in prison. But the crime is increased to a felony, a serious crime, punishable by up to four years in prison when done to hide another crime.
In this case, the Manhattan district attorney would have to prove that Trump falsified business records with the intent to hide the payments during the 2016 election.
Some of the evidence against Trump is in an audio recording made in September 2016 as he and his lawyer discussed how to suppress stories about his affair, government lawyers said. Court documents said Trump can be heard saying, "So what do we got to pay for this?"
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, was one of the witnesses before the grand jury that voted to indict Trump. Cohen said that he made the payment to adult film performer Stormy Daniels to keep her from telling in public about a sexual relationship she said she had with Trump years earlier. Cohen also said Trump’s business, called the Trump Organization, repaid the money with Trump’s knowledge, and claimed them as legal costs.
The supporting document also alleges a “catch and kill” plan to suppress a story from another adult magazine model, Karen McDougal. Former National Enquirer newspaper publisher David Pecker was another witness before the grand jury. He had earlier said that payments were made to suppress stories that could hurt Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Trump, who has called the charges political, held his fist in the air as he left Trump Tower for the courthouse.
Trump was to return to his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, on Tuesday evening to give remarks.
The indictment and even a conviction would not prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English with additional reporting from The Associated Press and Reuters.
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Words in This Story
plea –n. a defendant’s statement about the charges against them in a court of law
intent –n. an aim or plan to do something
defraud –v. to cheat or trick someone to get money
allege –v. to state without definite proof or the decision of a jury or court
indict –v. to officially bring charges against someone or some group in a court of law under the rule of law
grand jury –n. a jury that looks at evidence to decide if charges should be brought against an person or persons