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Trump Pleads Not Guilty to 34 Felony Charges While Protests Ensue

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Former U.S. president Doanld Trump has pleaded not guilty in Manhattan, New York, to 34 counts of falsifying business records, making him the first U.S. president to face criminal charges. Supporters of the former president, including Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, Congressman George Santos and others rallied outside of the courthouse to protest in defense of Trump. 

According to the statement of facts, Trump’s case includes payoffs or hush money payments prior to the 2016 election  issued through an intermediary to conceal an alleged affair. The indictment against the 45th president of the U.S. includes a reported $30,000 payment that Trump allegedly made to a former doorman at Trump Tower who claimed the former president had a child out of wedlock. 

The subject of three additional criminal investigations, including efforts to undermine the 2020 election results as well as mishandling classified documents after his presidential term, Trump is expected to issue public remarks from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida on Tuesday night.

On Saturday, March 18, Trump announced that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday, March 21, regarding charges in the state of New York related to alleged payment to an adult film actress. Making the announcement on his platform, Truth Social, Trump called for his supporters to protest.

“The far & away leading Republican candidate & former President of the United States of America, will be arrested…Protest, take our nation back,” the post read.

After his social media announcement, Trump’s lawyers did not confirm the pending arrest, noting that Trump’s claim was purely based on speculation of local media reports and that they had not received any information from judicial authorities.

CNN reported that meetings were held among city, state and federal law enforcement agencies in New York City to discuss potential security measures around Trump’s indictment. 

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Although federal prosecutors are seeking evidence of crimes committed prior to and during his Presidential term, The Hilltop previously reported that Trump has mentioned his intentions to campaign despite criminal investigations.

In 2022, veteran prosecutor Jack Smith, was appointed as special counsel to oversee investigations into Trump’s alleged role in undermining the 2020 election and recalling classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

Three months ago the Trump Organization was fined for tax fraud, although Trump was not on trial and denied knowledge of a criminal scheme.

Georgia’s Fulton county is currently investigating whether Trump hindered the 2020 election in the state, and New York is suing Trump and the Trump Organization for misleading banks and tax authorities about the value of assets.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and others are referencing the reported $130,000 payment to porn actress Stephanie “Stormy Daniels” Clifford, by Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen as ‘hush money’.

The details about the payment emerged during the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 campaign in exchange for Clifford’s silence about an extra-marital relationship she says she shared with Trump a decade prior.

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Clifford said she was paid to not go public about the affair, while Trump has denied the affair happened. Trump has adamantly denied the allegations, calling the investigation a “witch hunt” by Bragg, who is a Democrat. Meanwhile, Eric and Donald Trump Jr. called the indictment “third world prosecutorial misconduct”. 

In U.S. history no president has faced criminal charges during their term in office or afterward. Internationally, although heads of state and former heads of state are granted sovereign immunity and domestic immunity, former leaders have been jailed in at least 78 countries since 2000, in democratic nations such as France, Israel and South Korea. 

Dr. Phiwokuhle Mnyandu, a Howard alumnus and lecturer in the African studies department at Howard University, believes Trump’s arrest may signal dual meanings in international affairs because in many countries, former heads of state have a lifetime of immunity. 

“From an institutionally-positive global perspective, Trump’s arraignment may validate democratic processes, demonstrating that in a democratic society you cannot have impunity even if you are a former head of state,” said Mnyandu. 

“On the other hand, the cynical global perspective is that some people might view Trump as a victim who was arrested ahead of the 2024 U.S. Presidential election for a crime that has been known for years, especially considering he may be a front runner for his party ” Mnyandu concluded. 

Spectators and his advisers alike have acknowledged that Trump’s call for his supporters to protest his arrest, was reminiscent of his commentary preceding Jan. 6, 2021. Prior to the deadly siege of the U.S. Capitol in early 2021, Trump called for protests during his final days in office and repeatedly urged his supporters to reject the 2020 presidential election results.

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A group of Trump’s advisers privately suggested that he not call for protests, worried that a mass protest in Manhattan would visually and symbolically resemble the 2021 insurrection. Despite the potential threat of violent protests, others believe Trump is seeking to promote himself or to fulfill a self-serving agenda. 

Members of the international community, especially Trump’s colleagues and fellow politicians, have mentioned that Trump’s call for support and mass protests after his arrest is a political tactic designed to garner public support and compassion for him.

His pre-campaign tactics may be working as Trump’s arraignment and preceding call to action has seemingly galvanized Trump advocates as they are calling for Ron DeSantis to support Trump as a gesture of Republican solidarity. 

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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