Saturday, July 13, 2024

Trump returns to New York to face charges in criminal probe

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump flew Monday from Florida to New York for his historic booking and arraignment on hush money charges, as the nation's largest city bolstered security and warned potential protesters it was "not a playground for your misplaced anger."

Trump's motorcade ride from his Mar-a-Lago club to his red, white and blue Boeing 757, emblazoned with his name in gold letters, was carried live on cable television. It took him past supporters waving banners and cheering, decrying the case against him — stemming from payments made during his 2016 campaign — as politically motivated.

Trump is already months into a third campaign to reclaim the White House he lost to President Joe Biden in 2020, and he and his advisers seemed to relish the attention. Cable networks followed his plane at airports in Florida and New York with video from the air, and Trump was joined aboard by a small group of senior campaign aides as well as his son, Eric Trump, who eagerly posted photos of the wall-to-wall TV coverage from his seat.

The scene was quite different in New York, where Trump built a national profile in business and entertainment but became deeply unpopular as he moved into politics. Prosecutors say their case against him has nothing to do with politics and have defended the work of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg who is leading it.

Trump is facing multiple charges of falsifying business records, including at least one felony offense, in the indictment handed down by a Manhattan grand jury last week. The investigation is scrutinizing six-figure payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Both say they had sexual encounters with the married Trump years before he got into politics. Trump denies having sexual liaisons with either woman and has denied any wrongdoing involving payments.

It's an unprecedented chapter in American history, with Trump the first former president to face criminal charges. But he's betting it could actually boost his chances at winning the presidency again next year. In the meantime, the case is causing major legal, political and cultural events to collide in unprecedented ways.

Trump's team was embracing the media circus. After initially being caught off guard by news of the indictment last Thursday evening, he and his aides are hoping to use the case to his advantage. That idea clashed with the former president's own attorneys, however, who asked the judge in a Monday filing to ban photo and video coverage of his arraignment, which is expected Tuesday afternoon.

Repeating his frequent denunciation, Trump posted, "WITCH HUNT" on his social media network.

He also bolstered his legal team Monday, adding a third high-profile attorney, Todd Blanche, according to three people familiar with the matter. Blanche, a former federal prosecutor, has previously represented Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The people would not publicly discuss details of the legal team's plan and therefore spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The former president planned to spend the night at Trump Tower, then surrender to authorities on Tuesday for booking and the arraignment.

Officials have so far not seen an influx of people coming into the city, as was the case in Washington in the days before a mob of Trump supporters overran the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. Still, they warned that possessing a weapon in certain areas of the city, including near courthouses, is a crime.

"While there may be some rabble rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: control yourselves," said New York Mayor Eric Adams. "New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger. We are the safest large city in America because we respect the rule of law in New York City."

Trump Tower was open Monday, but traffic was expected to be snarled by nearby street closings, especially as the former president came and went. Additional security was also in the works. A small group of supporters hung large "Trump 2024" banners across from a makeshift pen of reporters, a block away from Trump Tower.

Authorities also have taken steps to close and secure the courthouse floor where Trump is to appear before a judge as part of his arraignment.

One of Trump's staunchest defenders in Congress, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, was helping to organize a rally in New York for Tuesday morning, and Mayor Adams took the unusual step of calling her out by name.

"Although we have no specific threats, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known to spread misinformation and hate speech, she's stated she's coming to town," Adams said. "While you're in town, be on your best behavior."

Arriving in Minnesota where he was touring a factory to promote his administration's economic policies, Biden was asked if he thought there would be unrest in New York.

"No, I have faith in the New York Police Department," the president replied. He also said he had faith in the nation's legal system.

Florida Trump supporters gathered at a West Palm Beach shopping center on the way to the airport, hours before he was set to pass along the route. Boca Raton firefighter Erik Solensten and his retired colleague, John Fischer, put up banners. One was 30 by 6 feet (9 by 2 meters), picturing police officers and firefighters saying, "Thanks for having our backs, President Trump."

"We are fire-rescue. We are prepared and don't like to wait for things to happen," said Solensten, who took a vacation day to show support for Trump. "He needs morale just like everyone else needs morale. He's done more for this country than any 10 presidents combined."

Trump senior adviser Jason Miller said the campaign had raised $7 million since word of the indictment broke, but official figures have not yet been released. One Trump fundraising email Monday carried the subject line, "Tomorrow, I will be arrested."

Top Republicans, including some of Trump's potential rivals in next year's GOP presidential primary, have decried the case against him. Biden, who has yet to formally announce that he's seeking reelection next year, and other leading Democrats have largely had little to say about it, including on Monday.

Trump's former U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, was campaigning near the U.S.-Mexico border and suggested that coverage of the former president's indictment was distracting from other key issues such as immigration. But she also said, "You've got a liberal prosecutor that's doing political revenge against a former president."

"We're dealing with a lot of political drama that's unnecessary because you've got political, vengeful people out there," Haley told Fox News Channel.