Donald Trump left Florida on Monday for New York where he will surrender to criminal charges, taking the United States into uncharted and potentially volatile territory.
The 76-year-old Republican, the first American president ever to be criminally indicted, will be formally charged Tuesday over hush money paid to a porn star during the 2016 election campaign.
Dozens of people, many waving pro-Trump banners and American flags, lined the route as Trump’s motorcade raced from his Florida mansion to the airport where he boarded his private Boeing 757 emblazoned with his name on the fuselage.
Trump was seen waving to the press as he boarded the plane, bound for the city where he made his name, and where he hopes to use his appearance before a judge to rouse support for his 2024 White House bid.
“HEADING TO NEW YORK. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!,” Trump posted on his social media platform Truth Social, minutes before he took off at 1 pm (1700 GMT).
“WITCH HUNT, as our once great Country is going to HELL!”
New York police were on high alert ahead of Trump’s arrival, with security cordons and Secret Service agents outside Trump Tower and the criminal court where he will appear before a judge Tuesday afternoon.
New York Mayor Eric Adams warned that anyone protesting violently during Trump’s historic arraignment will be “arrested and held accountable, no matter who you are.”
“While there may be some rabble rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow our message is clear, is simple: ‘control yourselves’,” the mayor told a press conference, adding that there were no specific, credible threats.
As part of his arraignment, Trump will undergo the standard booking procedure of being fingerprinted and photographed, likely to result in one of the most famous mugshots of the modern era.
‘Up In The Air’
There is no roadmap for a former president’s surrender to court authorities, and it remains to be seen whether the famously unpredictable Trump will follow the script, or find a way to upend events.
“It’s all up in the air,” Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina said on CNN Sunday.
But a “perp walk” — in which a defendant is escorted in handcuffs past media cameras — is unlikely for an ex-president under US Secret Service protection, Tacopina said.
“Hopefully this will be as painless and classy as possible for a situation like this.”
But Trump, who has denounced the legal proceedings as a “witch hunt” and “political persecution, is girding for battle, Tacopina added.
A grand jury indicted Trump last week in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat.
The specific charges will be revealed during Tuesday’s hearing. They revolve around the investigation of $130,000 paid to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels just days before Trump’s election win.
Trump’s former lawyer and aide Michael Cohen, who has since turned against his ex-boss, says he arranged the payment to Daniels in exchange for her silence about a tryst she says she had with Trump in 2006.
Trump, who was already married to his wife Melania at the time, denies the affair.
Legal experts have suggested that if not properly accounted for, the payment could result in misdemeanor charges for falsifying business records that could be raised to felonies if it was intended to cover up a campaign finance violation.
The Daniels case is only one of several investigations threatening Trump.
An independent prosecutor is looking into any potential role Trump played in the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol, as well as his handling and keeping of classified documents after he left the White House.
In the swing state of Georgia, Trump is under investigation for pressuring officials to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 victory there — including a taped phone call in which he asked the secretary of state to “find” enough votes to reverse the result.
Biden, knowing anything he might say could fuel Trump’s complaints of a politically “weaponized” judicial system, is one of the few Democrats maintaining silence over the indictment of his political rival.
Republicans have largely rallied around Trump, including his rival in the party’s presidential primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who called the indictment “un-American.”
But some Republicans bristled at the prospect of a twice-impeached president facing multiple legal probes seeking the party’s nomination.
Some observers believe the indictment bodes ill for Trump’s 2024 chances, while others say it could boost his support.
A CNN poll Monday found that 94 percent of Democrats surveyed approved of the grand jury’s decision to indict Trump while 79 percent of Republicans disapproved. (AFP)