Donald Trump has become the first current or former US leader ever to be charged with a crime – Copyright AFP/File Ted ALJIBE
Gerard Martinez, with Michael Mathes in Washington
Donald Trump prepared to fly Monday to New York for his historic arraignment on criminal charges, taking the United States and the office of the presidency into uncharted and potentially volatile territory.
The 76-year-old billionaire was indicted last week by a grand jury on a series of counts related to a hush-money payment made to an adult film star during the 2016 election campaign.
The Republican Party provocateur, who has already launched a 2024 White House bid, is the first sitting or former US president ever charged with a crime.
Trump said on his social media platform that he will decamp from his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida and fly at midday Monday to New York, the city where he was born and made his name.
“I will be going to, believe it or not, the Courthhouse. America was not supposed to be this way!” Trump posted on Truth Social.
“The Corrupt D.A. has no case,” he said of the Manhattan district attorney prosecuting the case. “What he does have is a venue where it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to get a Fair Trial.”
As part of his arraignment scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, Trump will undergo the standard booking procedure of being fingerprinted and photographed, likely to result in one of the most famous mugshots of the modern era.
Trump, who plans to make public remarks Tuesday at 8:15 pm (0015 GMT Wednesday) from Florida, has denounced the legal proceedings as a “witch hunt” and “political persecution.”
– ‘Up in the air’ –
The New York Police Department is on high alert ahead of the arraignment, with a potential for street protests by Trump supporters and detractors.
The force has ordered its 36,000 officers to be in uniform and ready to deploy, NBC News reported, citing official sources.
An arraignment is regular process, but there is no roadmap for a former president’s surrender to court authorities.
And it remains to be seen whether the famously unpredictable Trump will follow the script, or find a way to upend events.
“It’s all up in the air,” Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina said on CNN Sunday.
But a “perp walk” — in which a defendant is escorted in handcuffs past media cameras — is unlikely for an ex-president under US Secret Service protection, Tacopina said.
“Hopefully this will be as painless and classy as possible for a situation like this.”
But Trump is girding for battle, Tacopina added.
While the specific charges still remain under seal, the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg revolves around the investigation of $130,000 paid to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.
Trump’s former lawyer and aide Michael Cohen, who has since turned against Trump, testified before Congress that he arranged the payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence about a tryst she says she had with Trump in 2006.
Trump, who was already married to his wife Melania at the time, denies the affair.
But the Daniels case is only one of several investigations threatening Trump.
– Republicans unite? –
An independent prosecutor is looking into any potential role Trump played in the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, as well as his handling and keeping of classified documents after he left the White House.
In the swing state of Georgia, Trump is under investigation for pressuring officials to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory there — including a taped phone call in which he asked the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to reverse the result.
Biden, knowing anything he might say could fuel Trump’s complaints of a politically “weaponized” judicial system, is one of the few Democrats maintaining silence over the indictment of his political rival.
Republicans have largely rallied around Trump, including his rival in the party’s presidential primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who called the indictment “un-American.”
But some Republicans bristled at the prospect of a twice-impeached president facing multiple legal probes seeking the party’s nomination.
Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson, who announced Sunday he is running to be the Republican presidential nominee, openly questioned such a strategy and urged Trump to quit the race.
“I do think that’s too much of a sideshow and distraction, and he needs to be able to concentrate on his due process,” Hutchinson said.
“The office is always more important than the person.”