Inside a Manhattan courtroom, the spell was broken and Trump was finally humbled

Donald Trump warned of “death and destruction” if he was charged. Instead, he summoned a very small crowd of supporters, writes Richard Hall

Wednesday 05 April 2023 00:22 BST
(Getty Images)

Donald Trump walked into the courtroom slowly, his head slightly bowed in these unfamiliar surroundings. As he sat down at the front of the room, flanked by his lawyers, he seemed unsure of how to behave. There were no adoring fans to wave to, no podium to preen from, and no camera to perform for.

For the next hour — perhaps for the first time in his adult life — the 76-year-old former president found himself in a situation that was completely out of his control. A person who was the most powerful man on the planet just two years ago, now had to be quiet until he was spoken to.

Mr Trump’s arraignment at the Manhattan Criminal Court was history — both for him and the country. Never before has a former president been indicted, and never before has Mr Trump faced this kind of accountability for his actions. Today, he was formally charged with 34 felony counts relating to payments made to bury information about alleged affairs to boost his electoral prospects. The charges are the result of one of three investigations into Mr Trump for crimes allegedly committed before, during and after his presidency.

Wearing a suit and a red tie, Mr Trump spoke sparingly. His first words were, as expected, “not guilty.” He placed his hands together as the proceedings began and sat upright. By the end, his arms were crossed and he had slouched in his chair.

When photographers were brought into the room to take photographs of the now-arrested Mr Trump, he looked towards them, but did not nod or wave as he usually does.

Donald Trump arrested: A president surrenders | On The Ground

The entire point of hush money is that it is supposed to be quiet. As Mr Trump arrived at the court to answer charges relating to such an arrangement with a porn star, and was greeted by dozens of media organisations from around the globe, it must have been clear to him that his efforts had fallen short.

Even for a city prone to media spectacles, and media spectacles concocted by former New York resident Mr Trump himself, the scene that greeted him was outlandish. Throngs of journalists and television cameras crowded in Collect Pond Park, where competing protests in favour and against the indictment were held. The journalists outnumbered the protesters by a factor of 10 -1.

Trump had warned of “death and destruction” if he was ever charged for the alleged payment to Stormy Daniels, which he is accused of handling with campaign funds and falsifying the records to cover his tracks. In furious late-night posts, he portended a mass of his followers would not stand for this outrage, which — he assured them — was an attack on them, too. When the day came, however, only a smattering of his supporters turned out to support him; he entered the court through a side door, just like anyone else accused of a white-collar crime.

The small protest, in a park just outside the court, was joined briefly by disgraced congressman George Santos, who is also under investigation for several possible offenses. Soon after, Mr Trump’s anger translator, Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene also made a brief appearance, during which she was surrounded by more than one hundred journalists and drowned out by the sound of whistles. The whistles, she insisted, should be added to the long list of crimes committed by the deep state in its quest to silence the MAGA movement.

"You send your henchmen down here to commit assault against people by making loud noises," she said, addressing NYC Mayor Eric Adams, appearing to suggest that he was responsible for the counter-protest.


The crowd was larger than the loyal few who gathered outside of Four Seasons Total Landscaping on the day Mr Trump lost the presidency, but smaller than that which stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. The mood of those gathered was somewhere in between the two — angry at something, but not quite sure what to do with that anger.

Rosa Cerrato was one of dozens of pro-Trump protesters outside the court who believed the charges against Mr Trump untrue — part of a politically motivated move by the district attorney Alvin Bragg to stop him running for the presidency again in 2024.

“Americans know the truth, and so now they are trying to show President Trump in handcuffs,” she told The Independent.

Across the other side of the park, an equal number of pro-indictment protesters had gathered to celebrate Mr Trump being charged. Gregory Williams, a resident of the Bronx, carried with him a life-size cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.

“For eight years, every Trump rally and protest, they made a chant: ‘lock her up, lock her up.’ I mean, they made millions of dollars off of that shit,” he told The Independent. “I think crime is crime. If you commit a crime, I don’t care who you are — the president. Joe Average, Joe Millionaire, you should face a penalty.”

Trump’s court appearance lasted significantly longer than the alleged tryst which brought him there. Journalists had queued through the night for a spot inside the court. Some had anticipated there might be violence, in part because Mr Trump’s rhetoric in the days leading up to the arraignment had echoed his mood in the run-up to the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

One of his social media posts included an image of himself holding a baseball bat alongside an image of Mr Bragg. Last month, he wrote of Mr Bragg: “What kind of person can charge another person, in this case a former president of the United States, who got more votes than any sitting president in history, and leading candidate (by far!) for the Republican Party nomination, with a crime, when it is known by all that NO crime has been committed, & also that potential death & destruction in such a false charge could be catastrophic for our country?”

In the courtroom, the district attorney’s office admonished Mr Trump for those posts, accusing him of “threatening our city, our justice system, our courts and our office.”

Mr Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, countered that the former president was only responding to public statements from the prosecution’s witnesses, and that he was “frustrated and upset” at the “grave injustice” of being charged.

By the end of the proceedings, he certainly looked it. As he walked out, it appeared a spell had been broken. A man who had deftly handled and maneuvered New York’s legal system — his hometown — for decades, was finally humbled by it.

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