WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump was planning to leave Florida for New York on Monday for his expected booking and arraignment the following day on charges stemming from hush money payments during his 2016 campaign — answering for a criminal case unlike any his country has seen.
Trump, already in the midst of a third presidential campaign to try and reclaim the White House he lost to President Joe Biden in 2020, said he will leave his Mar-a-Lago club and fly on his private plane to Manhattan around noon and spend the night at Trump Tower before turning himself in to authorities on Tuesday.
Trump Tower was open but authorities were planning to close nearby streets as Trump came and went, and additional security was also in the works. They’ve taken steps to close and secure the courthouse floor where the former president is set to appear for an arraignment Tuesday afternoon.
Trump supporters, including one of his staunchest defenders in Congress, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, planned a rally in New York late Tuesday morning, probably before Trump would have to stand before a judge as part of the arraignment.
Trump and his aides were eagerly embracing the expected media circus, which might even involve network television helicopters tracking his progress from Mar-a-Lago to the airport for his flight to New York. After initially being caught off guard by news of the indictment when it broke Thursday evening, Trump and his team are focused on using what they call a weak case against Trump to his advantage.
Demonstrators supporting Trump began gathering as the Florida sun was just rising 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, got an early start putting 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.”
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, arguing that the case against him is politically motivated.
No former president has ever been indicted and, given Trump’s still active campaign for president, legal and political implications are colliding in an unprecedented ways. 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.
Top Republicans, including some of Trump’s potential rivals in next year’s GOP presidential primary, have decried the case against him. Biden and leading Democrats have largely had little to say about it.
Solensten said it is wrong that Trump 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 Jill Colvin and Julie Walker contributed to this report from New York.