US going to hell, says Donald Trump after denying 34 charges
The US is “going to hell”, Donald Trump has said in a defiant address after pleading not guilty to falsifying business records to hide damaging information ahead of the 2016 election.
The former president was charged with 34 counts in a Manhattan court in New York on Tuesday.
These relate to a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says they had an affair.
Mr Trump is the first US president in history to face a criminal trial.
“The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” the 76-year-old told supporters gathered at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida after he appeared in court.
He said that the “fake case” was simply part of a Democratic conspiracy to interfere with next year’s presidential election, in which he is running.
Earlier, he sat stony-faced and silent for the nearly hour-long proceedings before Judge Juan Merchan, speaking out loud only in response to the judge’s questions and to enter his plea of not guilty. Mr Trump said nothing to reporters as he left court.
The case against the former president hinges on a hush-money payment of $130,000 (£104,000) made before the 2016 presidential election.
While such a payment is not illegal, spending money to help a presidential campaign but not disclosing it violates federal campaign finance law.
His former lawyer, Michael Cohen – who turned against his former boss – has said he made the payment at Mr Trump’s direction.
Each of the charges carries a maximum of four years in prison, although a judge could sentence Mr Trump to probation if he is convicted.
The likelihood of his being found guilty is so far unclear, but the case has pulled the country into uncharted political territory.
Mr Trump’s trial could begin as early as January 2024, Judge Merchan said, meaning the Republican could be back in court just as primaries begin to select the party’s nominee for the presidential election.
While the charges relate to the payment to Stormy Daniels, prosecutors also released background documents which they say point to a pattern of trying to suppress potentially politically damaging stories.
They listed two other payments they say were made via the National Enquirer, a US tabloid whose publisher is a long-time ally of Mr Trump.
They allege $30,000 was paid to buy the silence of a doorman at Trump Tower who claimed Mr Trump had a lovechild.
And $150,000 was paid to Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model who said she had a sexual relationship with Mr Trump.
Prosecutors said both payments were made by the National Enquirer, a US tabloid whose publisher is a long-time Trump ally.
While a criminal conviction would not prevent Mr Trump from either running for president or from reclaiming the Oval Office, the prolonged legal fight could prove a major distraction for the Republican front-runner and may add a new layer of turmoil to his party’s primary.
Mr Trump is the focus of three other investigations, related to efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, the attack on the Capitol as it was certifying Joe Biden’s victory, and over the former president’s handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.