The former US president faces 34 felony counts in connection with a hush-money payment to a porn star before the 2016 election. The charges represent the culmination of a nearly five-year investigation.
Donald J. Trump pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, all of which are tied to the former president’s role in a hush-money payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels.
But prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office accused Mr. Trump of orchestrating a broader scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election by purchasing damaging stories about him to keep them under wraps.
“The defendant, Donald J. Trump, falsified New York business records in order to conceal an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 presidential election,” one of the prosecutors, Chris Conroy, said at Mr. Trump’s arraignment.
Here are answers to some key questions that have arisen from Tuesday’s events:
What Is Mr. Trump Accused of?
The charges trace back to a $130,000 hush-money payment that Mr. Trump’s fixer, Michael D. Cohen, made to the porn star, Stormy Daniels, in the final days of the 2016 campaign. The payment, which Mr. Cohen said he made at Mr. Trump’s direction, suppressed her story of a sexual liaison she says she had with Mr. Trump.
While serving as the commander in chief, Mr. Trump reimbursed Mr. Cohen, and that’s where the fraud kicked in, prosecutors say.
In internal records, Mr. Trump’s company classified the repayment to Mr. Cohen as legal expenses, citing a retainer agreement. Yet there were no such expenses, the prosecutors say, and the retainer agreement was fictional as well.
Those records underpin the 34 counts of falsifying business records: 11 counts involve the checks, 11 center on monthly invoices Mr. Cohen submitted to the company, and 12 involve entries in the general ledger for Mr. Trump’s trust.
Why is that a felony?
Falsifying business records can be charged as a misdemeanor offense. To elevate it to a felony, the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg must prove that Mr. Trump’s “intent to defraud” was in service of a second crime.
In this case, it is unclear whether Mr. Bragg has settled on the specifics of that second crime. During a news conference after the arraignment, Mr. Bragg mentioned a number of potential underlying crimes, most prominently a violation of a state election law that bars any conspiracy to promote “the election of a person to public office by unlawful means.”
Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, accused Donald J. Trump of falsifying business records connected to a hush money payment to a porn star. Mr. Trump pleaded not guilty to all 34 felony counts.
Do prosecutors need to convict Mr. Trump of a second crime?
No. They must only show that there was intent to “commit or conceal” a second crime. Prosecutors do not have to charge Mr. Trump with any secondary crime, or prove that he committed it. But prosecutors have not yet said definitively what crime or crimes they intend to rely on to escalate the charges to a felony level.
Why did prosecutors cite other hush money payments?
Mr. Bragg’s office linked Mr. Trump to three hush money deals. While the indictment mentions only the deal with Ms. Daniels, the prosecutors likely mentioned the other deals to begin the work of proving that Mr. Trump intended to conceal a second crime.
In addition to the indictment, the prosecutors filed a so-called statement of facts that referenced the other payoffs.
That document, which is common in complex white-collar cases, provides something of a road map for what the prosecutors could reveal at trial. And based on evidence presented to the grand jury, it details the two hush-money deals involving the National Enquirer, which has longstanding ties to Mr. Trump.
The first involved the tabloid paying $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman who claimed to know that Mr. Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock. The publication later determined the claim was untrue.
The National Enquirer also made a payment to Karen McDougal, Playboy’s playmate of the year in 1998, who wanted to sell her story of an affair with Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign. She reached a $150,000 agreement with the tabloid, which bought the rights to her story to suppress it — a practice known as “catch and kill.”
The deals suggest that the payment to Ms. Daniels was not an isolated incident but rather part of a broader strategy to influence the election.
What is the maximum sentence if Mr. Trump is convicted?
The charges against Mr. Trump are all Class E felonies, which are the lowest category of felony offense in New York and carry a maximum prison sentence of four years per count, though if he were convicted a judge could sentence him to probation.