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Trump claims election interference after not guilty plea

Former US President Donald Trump says he’s the victim of election interference, hours after pleading not guilty to 34 felony counts in a case alleging he orchestrated hush-money payments to two women before the 2016 US election.

Apr 05, 2023, updated Apr 05, 2023
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/Pool/Sipa USA

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/Pool/Sipa USA

“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” Trump told supporters gathered at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, on Tuesday night.

“The only crime that I’ve committed has been to fearlessly defend our nation against those who seek to destroy it.”

Trump returned to Florida after appearing in a Manhattan court. He accused prosecutor Alvin Bragg of being out to get him, and said case judge Juan Merchan is “a Trump-hating judge”.

In a subdued tone, Trump reviewed all the various legal cases against him, from the handling of classified documents that were taken to Mar-a-Lago when Trump moved out of the White House in early 2021, and the election interference case he is facing in Georgia from the 2020 election.

The documents case was being pursued by a “lunatic special counsel”, Trump said, referring to prosecutor Jack Smith.

The various legal predicaments are entangling Trump has he makes another run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

“Now, there’s massive election interference at a scale never seen,” he said.

Prosecutors in Manhattan accused Trump, the first sitting or former US president to face criminal charges, of trying to conceal a violation of election laws during his successful 2016 campaign.

“Not guilty,” Trump, 76, said when asked by the judge in court how he pleaded on Tuesday. Wearing a dark blue suit and red tie, Trump sat, subdued, with his hands folded at the defence table flanked by his lawyers.

Prosecutor Chris Conroy said: “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 and other violations of election laws.”

While falsifying business records in New York on its own is punishable by no more than one year in prison, it is elevated to up to four years when done to advance or conceal another crime, such as election law violations.

The two women in the case are adult film actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

The judge asked the parties to not to make statements “likely to incite violence or civil unrest” following social media posts by Trump, including one threatening “death and destruction” if he was charged.

Trump supporters and detractors were separated by barricades outside court, though there were some confrontations.

Trump flew home to Florida where he addressed family, friends and supporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday night, delivering a litany of grievances against investigators and prosecutors and rival politicians.

He described the prosecution by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg as election interference.

“I never thought anything like this could happen in America,” Trump said. “The only crime that I’ve committed has been to fearlessly defend our nation against those who seek to destroy it.”

Trump faces a separate criminal probe by a Georgia prosecutor into whether he unlawfully tried to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the state. He also faces two US Justice Department investigations into attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and his handling of classified documents after leaving office.

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“They can’t beat us at the ballot box so they try to beat us through the law,” Trump said.

Justice Juan Merchan set the next hearing for December 4. Legal experts say a trial might not even begin for a year, and indictment or even a conviction will not legally prevent Trump running for president.

“We’re going to fight it hard,” Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, told reporters after the arraignment.

Bragg, a Democrat accused by Trump and other Republicans of targeting him for political reasons, defended the charges, telling a news conference: “We today uphold our solemn responsibility to ensure that everyone stands equal before the law.”

The grand jury convened by Bragg heard evidence about a $US130,000 ($A193,000) payment made to Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels has said she was paid to keep silent about a sexual encounter she had with Trump at a Lake Tahoe hotel in 2006.

The former publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, offered to look out for negative stories during Trump’s campaign, prosecutors said. American Media Inc, its parent company, paid McDougal $US150,000 to buy the rights to her story but then kept it secret.

It also paid a former Trump Tower doorman $US30,000 to buy the rights to an untrue story about a child Trump had allegedly fathered out of wedlock.

Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen says he co-ordinated with Trump on payments to Daniels and McDougal. Trump has denied having had sexual relationships with either woman but has acknowledged reimbursing Cohen for his payment to Daniels.

Trump’s reimbursement cheques to a lawyer for the suppression payments falsely stated the money was for a “retainer agreement”, prosecutors said. The indictment accused Trump of falsifying his real estate company’s books with intent to defraud.

Bragg’s office did not charge Trump with violating election laws.

-AAP

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