Donald Trump has landed in New York ahead of a historic arraignment in a Manhattan criminal court to face charges connected to hush money payments allegedly made to an adult film star in the lead up to his 2016 election.
His Boeing 757 arrived at LaGuardia Airport shortly after 1500 local time [2000 GMT] before his caravan escorted him to his Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the headquarters for his Trump Organisation and the namesake skyscraper from where he launched his first presidential campaign after descending his beloved “golden escalators” in 2015.
On 4 April, Mr Trump will appear inside New York City Criminal Court to be formally charged in connection with that same campaign after district attorney Alvin Bragg announced a grand jury indictment against him last week.
Mr Trump does not intend to stay long, however, though his supporters are expected to protest outside the courthouse where throngs of reporters and international news media have camped for several days; Mr Trump has scheduled a press conference back at Mar-a-Lago that same night.
The former president’s motorcade left his Florida compound for Palm Beach International Airport shortly after noon on Monday, joined by a small army of campaign aides and advisers, including his son Eric Trump.
City officials and law enforcement agencies braced for his arrival and a potentially volatile atmosphere in Manhattan, where New York City mayor Eric Adams warned out-of-town “rabble rousers” who plan to protest to “control yourselves”.
He singled out US Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, among far-right activists who have announced plans to travel to the city to support the former president.
“Although we have no specific threats, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known to spread misinformation and hate speech, she stated she’s coming to town,” Mr Adams said in a briefing as Mr Trump’s caravan departed Mar-a-Lago.
“When you’re in town, be on your best behavior,” he added. “While there may be some rabble rousers thinking of coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: Control yourselves,” he added. “New York is our home and not a place for your misplaced anger.”
Outside Trump Tower, a handful of Trump supporters joined a “homecoming” rally as dozens of reporters and news cameras directed their attention at the gold-trimmed entry on Fifth Avenue awaiting Mr Trump’s arrival.
“The indictment is not against Trump. It’s against America,” Dion Cini, wearing an “ULTRA EXTREME MAGA” T-shirt outside Trump Tower, told reporters.
The indictment remains sealed, and no one other than grand jury members and prosecutors have reviewed evidence and the explanation of charges against the former president.
But Mr Trump is expected to face more than two dozen charges connected to his alleged hush money payments orchestrated by his then-attorney Michael Cohen, who was sentenced to 36 months in prison for “brazen violations of the election laws” when he admitted to coordinating more than $130,000 to silence Stormy Daniels in an effort to support Mr Trump’s 2016 election chances, according to federal prosecutors.
Mr Trump is expected to surrender himself to authorities before his arraignment with a formal presentation of the charges, to which is expected to plead not guilty.
The hearing will probably not be televised or filmed, as per New York law prohibiting courtroom recordings, although news organisations and New York lawmakers have asked for exceptions in the historic case. A vast pool of journalists will be vying for a slim number of seats.
Within hours of the announcement of the indictment against Mr Trump, his campaign pushed out fundraising emails to his loyal supporters. His campaign reportedly raised $4m within 24 hours after news of his indictment broke last week.
As The Independent previously reported, Mr Trump launched a media frenzy with a false prediction of his imminent “arrest” on 19 March, which his campaign seized for a series of fundraising messages that netted millions within days.
A pair of recent polls finds that a majority of Americans believe Mr Trump should face criminal charges in connection with the alleged hush-money scheme.
Polling from CNN and SSRS finds that 60 per cent of Americans – including 94 per cent of Democratic voters and 62 per cent of Independents – believe Mr Trump was rightfully indicted. Seventy-nine per cent of Republican voters disapprove, and 54 per cent strongly disapprove.
Those results follow polling from ABC News/Ipsos that find a plurality of Americans (45 per cent) support the indictment. In that poll, roughly half (49 per cent) of respondents also believe that Mr Trump should face charges for his actions related to the attack on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, and (51 per cent) say he should be charged for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.