Donald Trump will on Tuesday appear in a New York courthouse where he is expected to be formally charged in connection with payments made to buy the silence of a porn actress ahead of his 2016 campaign for the White House.
The arraignment of Trump, expected to take place at about 2.15pm in Manhattan, marks the first criminal case against a former or sitting US president and will fire the starting gun on a courtroom drama that is likely to grip a deeply divided America.
Large swaths of the downtown area were cordoned off in anticipation of protests. Just after 9am, pro- and anti-Trump partisans scuffled in a small park across from the courthouse during a stand-off that was more performative than violent.
Other prominent supporters of the former president, including Republican House member Marjorie Taylor Greene, travelled to the city to back Trump, who has repeatedly labelled the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation a “political witch hunt”.
Ahead of the hearing, Greene stood on a park bench just across from the courthouse and addressed a raucous crowd through a bullhorn.
With her eyes shielded by sunglasses, she warned of communism taking over the country and taunted New York’s Democratic mayor, Eric Adams. But her remarks were drowned out by whistles and competing chants of “fucking fascist!” and “U-S-A!”
She left in a chaotic scrum and was followed by a succession of pro-Trump speakers, including a Chinese democracy activist, a self-described Christian rapper and a New York Young Republicans member wearing a suit and tie with his hair slicked back like Donald Trump Jr, the ex-president’s son.
Adams said on Monday there had been “no specific credible threats” to the city and urged “rabble rousers” not to resort to violence.
Trump, who travelled to New York on Monday afternoon from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, spent the night at his Manhattan residence in Trump Tower. He was expected to arrive at the criminal court, surrounded by the secret service detail that typically follows ex-presidents.
The 76-year-old will then be processed like other defendants, and have his fingerprints taken behind closed doors. Trump does not expect to be handcuffed, his lawyer Joe Tacopina told US television networks last week.
A proceeding known as an arraignment, which usually takes no more than a half-hour, will follow, when the court will ascertain whether Trump and his legal team have read and had a chance to review the full indictment.
The former president will then plead not guilty to the charges, his lawyers said. Trump is expected to return to Mar-a-Lago later on Tuesday, from where he will deliver a speech.
Details of the indictment have been kept under seal since they were filed on Thursday. But lawyers for Trump said they expected the charges to relate to the $130,000 allegedly paid to Stormy Daniels, a porn actress, via attorney Michael Cohen to cover up an affair she claimed to have had with Trump years earlier.
The transactions were allegedly recorded as legal fees, and prosecutors will attempt to show that they were in fact made to protect Trump’s campaign, according to people familiar with the case, and therefore violated federal campaign finance law.
Tacopina said Trump’s defence team would move quickly to challenge the legitimacy of the indictment by filing motions to dismiss the case soon after the arraignment.
On the eve of his arraignment, Trump hired Todd Blanche, a top defence lawyer specialising in white-collar criminal investigations, according to Politico, to beef up the legal team fighting the charges. Blanche previously defended Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chief, and in 2019 secured the dismissal of New York state charges against him. Manafort had been previously convicted on federal charges.
Additional reporting by Joshua Chaffin in New York