Donald Trump began his career as a Queens-born real estate scion with dreams of making a splash in Manhattan. On Tuesday, the former president returns to a downtown criminal courthouse in that borough to face off against The People of the State of New York.
So reads the caption of what’s reported to be a 34-count criminal indictment, stemming from Trump’s alleged role in a $130,000 hush money payment to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels. In the jargon of state criminal law, “The People” stand in for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the grand jurors who signed off on Bragg’s charges.
On Tuesday at the latest, the public will learn what laws Trump’s accused of breaking. Trump will almost certainly deny that he did so.
Former New York prosecutors, in interviews with Law&Crime, described everything that they expect to happen before, during and after that plea.
“He will be escorted into court by his attorneys and law enforcement (Secret Service included),” Law&Crime legal analyst Julie Rendelman, a former Brooklyn homicide prosecutor, said. “His attorneys will be provided a copy of the indictment and review with Trump. The case will be read into the record. Trump will plead not guilty.”
Beyond that, the stage has been set for other pretrial battles, which the court may or may not address.
“There will be possible discussions regarding a gag order, potential conflict in terms of one of his attorney’s continued representation and discussions regarding the providing of discovery to the defense in a timely manner,” Rendelman said. “I anticipate the judge will give a fairly lengthy adjournment.”
Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the cases of Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization, will preside over the proceedings. Trump has vilified Merchan as a “Trump Hating Judge” and made a series of incendiary statements that could spark a request for pretrial muzzling. Legal experts say the First Amendment implications of instituting a gag order against a former president could be fraught — and may be appealed if granted.
One potential conflict involved Trump’s attorney Joe Tacopina, who has been questioned about whether he ever had an attorney-client relationship with Daniels. Tacopina once claimed he did to CNN’s Don Lemon, but he now denies it, in a controversy that reportedly may be litigated.
Trump’s legal team has been in flux as recently as the day of the arraignment, when Trump’s defense team reportedly got a new leader: Paul Manafort’s onetime attorney Todd Blanche, formerly of the firm Cadwalader. Susan Necheles, who represented the Trump Organization, rounds off the criminal defense team.
‘One of those secret elevators’
Reporters likely will line up outside the courthouse before dawn for a spot inside the courtroom or one of the overflow rooms. Trump’s day will start before the proceedings begin, when he arrives at the DA’s office at 1 Hogan St. with his attorney. The DA investigator will ask him to turn over his belongings to hold until after arraignment, fingerprint and photograph him.
In the normal course, former Manhattan prosecutor Diana Florence said, a criminal defendant would be handcuffed at this point. Trump’s lawyer said that’s not going to happen here.
“The president will not be put in handcuffs,” Tacopina told ABC News.
New York law on the fingerprinting process appears to be silent on the question, and many experts say not to expect them. But Florence, who handled scores of white-collar cases in her 25-year career, said that she’s never seen an exception in her experience, even for CEOs.
“If they don’t do handcuffs, that would be the first time,” Florence said.
Given security considerations, Florence said she wouldn’t be surprised if Trump were whisked into “one of the secret elevators” to avoid public hallways. Prosecutors, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Susan Hoffinger and Peter D. Pope, would walk through the regular hallway.
Legal experts believe it’s unlikely, though possible, for a trial date to be set. Florence said that her complex cases didn’t have schedules set immediately, but what’s known as a “control” date is often set after arraignment to map out schedules.
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What to expect at Donald Trump’s hush-money arraignment
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