What to expect during Donald Trump’s silent impeachment

Former President Donald Trump charged in silent money case. (Photo of Trump by Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

Donald Trump started his career as a Queens-born real estate scion with a dream of making a splash in Manhattan. On Tuesday, the former president returns to a downtown courthouse in that borough to face the people of New York state.

So reads the caption for what would be a 34-count criminal indictment, stemming from Trump’s alleged role in a silent $130,000 payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels. In state criminal law parlance, “The People” stands in for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the grand jurors who approved Bragg’s charges.

By Tuesday, the public will learn which laws Trump is accused of breaking. Trump will almost certainly deny that he did.

Former New York prosecutors, in interviews with Law&Crime, described everything they expect to happen before, during and after this plea.

“He will be escorted to court by his attorneys and law enforcement (Secret Service included),” said Law & Crime legal analyst Julie Rendelman, a former Brooklyn homicide prosecutor. “His attorneys will receive a copy of the indictment and will review it with Trump. The case will be read from the docket. Trump will plead not guilty.

“Possible discussions”

Beyond that, the stage has been set for other preliminary battles, which the court may or may not get into.

“There will be possible discussions regarding a gag order, a potential conflict in terms of the continued representation of one of his attorneys, and discussions regarding timely disclosure of the discovery to the defense,” Rendelman said. “I anticipate the judge will grant a fairly lengthy adjournment.”

Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, who presided over the cases of Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization, will preside over the proceedings. Trump vilified Merchan as a “Trump Hating Judge” and made a series of inflammatory statements that could trigger a pretrial muzzling request. Legal experts say the First Amendment implications of instituting a gag order against a former president could be onerous — and subject to appeal if granted.

A potential conflict involved Trump’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, who was questioned about whether he had ever had an attorney-client relationship with Daniels. Tacopina once claimed he did it to CNN’s Don Lemon, but he now denies it, in what could be a contentious controversy.

Trump’s legal team has been in flux as recently as impeachment day, when Trump’s defense team reportedly had a new leader: Paul Manafort’s former attorney, Todd Blanche, formerly of the firm. Cadwalader. Rounding out the criminal defense team is Susan Necheles, who represented the Trump Organization.

“One of those secret elevators”

Journalists will likely line up outside the courthouse before dawn for a seat inside the courtroom or in one of the overflow rooms. Trump’s day will begin before the start of the proceedings, when he arrives at the district attorney’s office at 1 Hogan St. with his attorney. The DA investigator will ask him to hand over his belongings to keep until the end of the arraignment, take his fingerprints and photograph him.

In the normal course, former Manhattan prosecutor Diana Florence said a defendant would be handcuffed at this point. Trump’s attorney said it wouldn’t happen here.

“The president will not be handcuffed”, Tacopina said ABC News.

New York’s law on the fingerprinting process appears to be silent on the matter, and many experts say they don’t expect it. But Florence, who has handled dozens of white-collar cases over her 25-year career, said she has never seen an exception in her experience, even for CEOs.

“If they don’t put the handcuffs on, it would be the first time,” Florence said.

Given the security considerations, Florence said she wouldn’t be surprised if Trump was taken to “one of the secret elevators” to avoid the public hallways. Prosecutors, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Susan Hoffinger and Peter D. Pope, walked through the usual hallway.

Legal experts believe it is unlikely, although possible, that a trial date will be set. Florence said her complex cases don’t have schedules set immediately, but what’s called a “control” date is often set after arraignment to establish schedules.

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