Donald Trump surrenders for arraignment at Manhattan court

New York: Donald Trump has turned himself in to face criminal charges over hush money paid to a porn star, in an historic moment that has upended the 2024 presidential race and further divided the US.

The former president’s motorcade left Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to the court precinct in Lower Manhattan at 1.09pm (US time) and was escorted by his Secret Service detail into the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg about 17 minutes later, under one of the biggest security operations New York has seen.

Former President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday.Credit:AP

“Heading to Lower Manhattan, the Courthouse. Seems so SURREAL – WOW, they are going to arrest me,” the 76-year-old wrote on his Truth Social online platform as he made the journey with only a few aides and without his wife, Melania. “Can’t believe this is happening in America.”

After stepping out of his car, Trump waved briefly to the crowd in the distance before entering the District Attorney’s office. Once inside, he was effectively under arrest and due to be fingerprinted. A mugshot is not expected to be taken due to concerns about it being leaked.

Trump was set to be ushered to a room on the 15th floor of the Manhattan Criminal Court to be arraigned by Judge Juan Merchan, where he will be presented with the indictment detailing the charges against him. He is expected to plead not guilty.

The moment marks the first time a former US president has ever been charged for a criminal offence, let alone one who is currently the frontrunner to be the Republican nominee to run for the White House next year.

But in a sign of America’s deepening chasm, hundreds of protesters gathered at Collect Pond Park outside the court ahead of the arraignment, with those in favour of Trump assigned to the south side of the square, while those against were assigned to the north.

Protesters at Collect Pond Park across the street from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in New York on Tuesday.Credit:AP

“Lock him up! Lock him up!” the anti-Trump forces sang as they faced off against the pro-Trump crowd. Some banged pots and pans or waved “F-– Trump” flags as they danced in unison, others wore costumes of the former president in prison uniform.

Many on both sides also lamented what was happening to their country.

“All of us need to start coming together!” said New York resident Atlas Johnson, a black man who lost family in a racism-fuelled mass shooting in Buffalo last year.

“It’s time to come together as one! We are Americans – every single one of us – and it’s time to start acting like it! It’s time out for this bullshit.”

Trump has remained defiant in the face of the charges, which stem from a $US130,000 hush-money payment that his then attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, paid to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.

Daniels claims she had an affair with Trump in 2006, soon after he married his third wife Melania. The former president, however, insists this is not true.

Trump took to social media on Tuesday morning to demand that the case be moved to Staten Island in New York because he was unlikely to get a fair hearing in the deeply Democratic region of Manhattan.

Earlier, he also used social media to hit out at Bragg over a report by Yahoo News’ chief investigative correspondent Michael Isakoff, which said that he would be charged with 34 felony counts for falsification of business records – all of which, according to single source, had been elevated from misdemeanours.

“Wow! District Attorney Bragg just illegally LEAKED the various points, and complete information, on the pathetic Indictment against me,” Trump posted on his Truth Social platform as he declared Bragg “MUST BE IMMEDIATELY INDICTED.”

“Now, if he wants to really clean up his reputation, he will do the honorable thing and, as District Attorney, INDICT HIMSELF. He will go down in Judicial history, and his Trump Hating wife will be, I am sure, very proud of him!”

The arrest took place against the backdrop of one of the largest security operations New York City has ever undertaken. As the sun came up over Manhattan on Tuesday morning, helicopters hovered above the court precinct where Trump was set to be arraigned.

Roads had been blocked off with steel fencing, with groups of police on guard at almost every street corner. Media vans, camera crews and reporters had swarmed into the downtown district, with some even lining up by the court overnight in the hope of getting one of the few coveted seats inside.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said there had been no evidence of credible threats, but had warned “rabble rousers” to “control themselves” singling out far right Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green who had organised a protest rally in support of Trump next to the court.

But the scenes at the rally were so chaotic – thanks to counterprotesters who organised to show up in force to drown out her speech – that she could barely be heard among the throng, even with a megaphone. Some of the anti-Trump forces who had been at the north side of the park rushed to the south side when Greene arrived, resulting in mild pushing and scuffling between protesters.

The former president has used the indictment to build a war chest for his campaign ahead of next year’s election, soliciting donations and selling tee-shirts with emblazoned with the words “I Stand With Trump”. According to longtime adviser Jason Miller, Trump had raised “a record $US7million” ($10 million) since news of his indictment broke.

Hours before his arraignment, Trump sent out another fundraising email seeking money, with the subject headline: “The last email before my arrest.”

“Today is the day that a ruling political party ARRESTS its leading opponent for having committed NO CRIME,” he said.

“As I will be out of commission for the next few hours, I want to take this moment to THANK YOU for all of your support… It’s sad to see what’s happening – not for myself – but for our country. This is not the America you and I once knew.”

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