On Tuesday, former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in the first degree in New York City. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 136 years in prison, though the actual sentence will likely be far less if he is convicted.
At a press conference later on Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg explained why the concealed crime behind the falsified records was not specified in the indictment. He accused Trump and his associates of employing a “catch and kill” scheme to bury potentially damaging information ahead of the 2016 election.
“In total, 34 false entries were made in New York business records to conceal the initial covert $130,000 payment,” Bragg alleged.
The indictment comes after a years-long investigation by Manhattan prosecutors into hush-money payments that the former president allegedly made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both women have alleged that they had affairs with Trump, which he denies.
However, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York decided in 2019 not to charge Trump with any crimes related to the payments. An investigation by the Federal Election Commission was also closed without any charges.
Trump is also being investigated by a prosecutor in Fulton County, Georgia, for his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election result in that state; and federal investigations led by a special counsel are probing Trump’s handling of classified documents and his alleged attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat nationwide.
The falsifying business records charge is a class E felony in New York State and carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison. If convicted, Trump could face a maximum sentence of 136 years in prison.
However, legal experts say that the sentence is unlikely to be anywhere near this long, as the individual charges tend to carry lighter sentences. Moreover, it is also possible that Trump could avoid jail time altogether and instead receive a financial penalty.
The next step in the case is for Trump to appear in court for a hearing on May 13th, at which point a judge will decide whether or not to proceed to trial.