by TERRY SPENCER and WILL WEISSERT Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump flew from Florida on Monday aboard his private plane toward New York and his historic booking and arraignment on hush money charges. The nation’s largest city bolstered security and warned potential protesters it was “not a playground for your misplaced anger.”
Trump’s motorcade from his Mar-a-Lago club to his red, white and blue Boeing 757, emblazoned with his name in gold letters, was carried live on national television. It took him past supporters waving banners and cheering, blasting the case against him — stemming from payments made during his 2016 campaign — as politically motivated.
The scene was quite different in New York, where Trump built a national profile in business and entertainment but became deeply unpopular as he moved into politics. Prosecutors say their case against him has nothing to do with politics and have defended the work of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg who is leading it.
Monday’s return to the city opens an unprecedented chapter in American history, with Trump the first former president to face criminal charges even as he is in the midst of a third campaign for the White House. It is causing major legal, political and cultural events to collide in unprecedented ways.
The former president and his aides are embracing the media circus. After initially being caught off guard by news of the indictment when it broke Thursday evening, Trump and his team are hoping to use the case to his advantage. Still, they asked the judge in a Monday filing to ban photo and video coverage of the arraignment.
Repeating his frequent denunciation, Trump posted, “WITCH HUNT” on his social media network.
He also bolstered his legal team Monday, adding a third high-profile attorney, Todd Blanche, according to three people familiar with the matter. Blanche, a former federal prosecutor, has previously represented Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The people would not publicly discuss details of the legal team’s plan therefore and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The former president planned to spend the night at Trump Tower, then surrender to authorities on Tuesday for booking and a likely afternoon arraignment. So far, officials have not seen an influx of people coming into the city, as was the case in Washington in the days before a mob of Trump supporters overran the U.S. Capitol in January 2021.
Still, authorities warned that possessing a weapon in certain areas of the city, including near courthouses, is a crime.
“While there may be some rabble rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: control yourselves,” said New York Mayor Eric Adams. “New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger. We are the safest large city in America because we respect the rule of law in New York City.”
Trump Tower was open Monday, but traffic was expected to be snarled by nearby street closings, especially as the former president came and went, and additional security was also in the works. A small group of supporters hung large “Trump 2024” banners across from a makeshift pen of reporters, a block away from Trump Tower.
Authorities also have taken steps to close and secure the courthouse floor where Trump is to appear before a judge as part of his arraignment.
One of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, was helping to organize a rally in New York for Tuesday morning, and Mayor Adams took the unusual step of calling her out by name.
“Although we have no specific threats, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known to spread misinformation and hate speech, she’s stated she’s coming to town,” Adams said. “While you’re in town, be on your best behavior.”
Trump is facing multiple charges of falsifying business records, including at least one felony offense, in the indictment handed down by a Manhattan grand jury last week. The investigation is scrutinizing six-figure payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Both say they had sexual encounters with the married Trump years before he got into politics. Trump denies having sexual liaisons with either woman and has denied any wrongdoing involving payments.
In Florida, preparations to cheer Trump as he headed to the airport began early. Supporters gathered at a West Palm Beach shopping center on the way to the airport, hours before he was set to pass along the route.
Boca Raton firefighter Erik Solensten and his retired colleague, John Fischer, put up banners. One was 30 by 6 feet (9 by 2 meters), picturing police officers and firefighters saying, “Thanks for having our backs, President Trump.”
“We are fire-rescue. We are prepared and don’t like to wait for things to happen,” said Solensten, who took a vacation day to show support for Trump. “He needs morale just like everyone else needs morale. He’s done more for this country than any 10 presidents combined.”
No former president has ever been indicted and trump’s active campaign for the presidency during next year’s election only further raises the political stakes. Trump spent the weekend golfing and meeting advisers but his campaign says it has raised more than $5 million since word of the indictment broke. One Trump fundraising email Monday carried the subject line, “Tomorrow, I will be arrested.”
Top Republicans, including some of Trump’s potential rivals in next year’s GOP presidential primary, have decried the case against him. President Joe Biden, who has yet to formally announce that he’s seeking reelection next year, and other leading Democrats have largely had little to say about it.
Trump’s former UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, was campaigning on Monday near the U.S.-Mexico border and suggested that coverage of the former president’s indictment was distracting from other key issues, like immigration. But even she added, “You’ve got a liberal prosecutor that’s doing political revenge against a former president.”
“We’re dealing with a lot of political drama that’s unnecessary because you’ve got political, vengeful people out there,” Haley told Fox News Channel.
Solensten, the Florida Trump supporter, said it is wrong that the former president is being charged with a crime stemming from an alleged tryst with a porn star long before he was in office. He said investigators should instead be looking at Biden’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings, which committees in the Republican-controlled House have already begun examining.
“To me, those acts are treasonable,” Solensten said of the Bidens. “But it’s a walk.
Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak, Jill Colvin, Bobby Caina Calvan and Julie Walker in New York and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.