After President Donald Trump was arrested and charged on 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, New York City District Attorney Alvin Bragg held a press conference to reveal how he landed at 34 felony counts for what would otherwise be classified as misdemeanor crimes. Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Judge Juan Merchan told Trump's attorneys to make sure their client would "refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence and civil unrest." The indictment was unsealed after the arraignment, showing 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, meaning that the allegation is that this was done to cover up further crimes.
Trump, who turned himself in on Tuesday morning as was previously arranged, left the courthouse after the arraignment before Judge Juan Merchan and headed back to Florida on his jet, nicknamed Trump Force 1, which was awaiting him at LaGuardia Airport. He is expected to give remarks from his Mar-a-Lago home on Tuesday night at about 8 pm. The White House has made no comment, despite this being the first time in American history that a current or former president was brought up on criminal charges.
"Earlier this afternoon," Bragg began, addressing waiting reporters, "Donald Trump was arraigned on a New York Supreme Court indictment returned by a Manhattan grand jury on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree. Under New York State law is a felony to falsify business records with intent to defraud an intent to conceal another crime. That is exactly what this case is about."
Bragg claimed that these 34 "false statements," which the indictment reveals are simply every time payments to Cohen were made over a period of months and invoices, payments, and receipts were recorded in bookkeeping ledgers, were made to "cover up other crimes, fees or felony crimes in New York State."
Bragg alleged that the false statements were that payments made by Trump to his attorney were legal fees. Bragg alleges that these monies paid to Cohen were then paid to Stormy Daniels, a porn star with whom Trump is alleged to have had a fling, and that they therefore should have been recorded as campaign contributions. His allegation is that if Trump paid Daniels to not speak about their alleged entanglement, that would have been a boon to Trump's 2016 campaign and would therefore constitute a campaign contribution that was in excess of the legal limit.
"No matter who you are, we cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct," Bragg said.
In 2017, in the months of "April, May, June and so on through the rest of the year, for nine straight months, the defendant held documents in his hand containing this key lie that he was paying Michael Cohen for legal services performed in 2017. And he personally signed checks for payments to Michael Cohen for each of these nine months."
"In total, the grand jury found there were 34 documents with this critical false statement," Bragg said of the occasions on which he alleged that Trump recorded payments to his attorney as legal fees.
"Why did Donald Trump repeatedly make these false statements?" Bragg asked. "The evidence will show that he did so to cover up crimes relating to the 2016 election," Bragg went on.
He then alleged that the monies paid to Cohen were used as part of a plan to buy Daniels' story about the alleged affair and then not run it at publications owned by American Media Incorporated.
"Donald Trump, executives at the publishing company, American Media Incorporated, Mr. Cohen and others agreed in 2015 to a catch-and-kill scheme. That is a scheme to buy and suppress negative information to help Mr. Trump's chances of winning the election," he continued.
"As part of this scheme," Bragg said, "Donald Trump and others made three payments to people who claim to have negative information about Mr. Trump." He then alleged that Trump "set up shell companies and they made yet more false statements, including, for example, in AMI, American Media Incorporated's, business records.
"One of the three people that they paid to keep quiet was a woman named Stormy Daniels," he continued. "Less than two weeks before the presidential election. Michael Cohen wired $130,000 to Stormy Daniels' lawyer. That payment was to hide damaging information from the voting public. The participants' scheme was illegal. The scheme violated New York election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to promote a candidacy by unlawful means."
Bragg alleged that this payment was a campaign contribution, and that as such, it was illegally made. "The 130,000 on a wire payment exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap and the false statements in AMI's books violated New York law."
It was for this reason, Bragg said, that Trump "made false statements about his payments to Mr. Cohen. He could not simply say that the payments were reimbursement for Mr. Cohen's payments to Stormy Daniels. To do so, to make that true statement, would have been to admit a crime. So instead, Mr. Trump said that he was paying Mr. Cohen for fictitious legal services in 2017 to cover up actual crime committed the prior year."
Bragg further alleged that Trump and Cohen cooked up a "scheme" to "mischaracterize the repayments to Mr. Cohen as income to the New York state tax authorities."
In other words, Bragg alleges that payments Trump made to his lawyer were not legal fees, but a pass-through to hush up a porn star, that hushing up a porn star would be a benefit to his presidential campaign, making it a campaign contribution, and that monies Cohen received from his client were not income.
"The conduct I just described, and that which was charged by the grand jury is felony criminal conduct in New York State," Bragg said.
Bragg took questions from reporters. One reporter asked about the "false business records," saying that while Bragg has said that these alleged false business records conceal another crime, that crime was not noted in the indictment.
The reporter said "we are assuming perhaps that they might be election related. I'm wondering if we can specify what laws are also broken."
Bragg did not feel a need to disclose the crimes that the alleged falsification of business records was meant to conceal, saying that "the indictment doesn't specify that because the law does not so require it."
"In my remarks," he continued, "I mentioned a couple of laws which I will highlight again now. The first is New York State election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to promote a candidacy by unlawful means. I further indicated a number of unlawful means including more additional false statements, including statements that we're planned to be made to the tax authorities. I also know that the Federal Election Law cap or contravene contribution limits their time."
The reporter asked why those charges were not made, and Bragg said that he would not disclose that.
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