Donald Trump conspired to illegally influence the 2016 election through a series of hush money payments designed to stifle claims that could be harmful to his candidacy, prosecutors said in unsealing a historic 34-count felony indictment against the former US president.
The payments, said Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy, were part of “an unlawful plan to identify and suppress negative information that could have undermined his campaign for president”.
Mr Trump, stony-faced and silent as he entered and exited the Manhattan courtroom, said “not guilty” in a firm voice while facing a judge who warned him to refrain from rhetoric that could inflame or cause civil unrest.
The next court date is December 4th, though it is not clear if he will be required to appear.
The broad contours of the case have long been known, but the indictment contains new details about a scheme that prosecutors say involved multiple pay-offs to two women, including a porn actor, who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with him years earlier, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about a child he alleged the former president had out of wedlock.
The arraignment, though largely procedural in nature, amounts to a remarkable reckoning for Mr Trump after years of investigations into his personal, business and political dealings.
The case is unfolding against the backdrop not only of his third campaign for the White House but also against other investigations in Washington and Atlanta that might yet produce even more charges.
Any alleged offence punishable by more than one year in prison is called a felony in the US justice system.
Mr Trump entered the courtroom shortly before 2.30pm local time. He left court about an hour later, also without commenting.
Before the arraignment, he narrated his feelings in real time, describing the experience as “SURREAL” as he travelled from Trump Tower to lower Manhattan in New York to face a judge.
Wearing his signature dark suit and red tie, Mr Trump turned and waved to crowds outside the building before heading inside to be fingerprinted and processed.
Afterwards, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told reporters that it was a “sad day for the country”.
“You don’t expect this to happen to somebody who was president of the United States,” he said.
Mr Trump, who was impeached twice by the US House but was never convicted in the US Senate, is the first former president to face criminal charges.
Mr Trump is scheduled to return to his Palm Beach, Florida, home, Mar-a-Lago, on Tuesday evening to give remarks. At least 500 prominent supporters have been invited, with some of the most pro-Trump congressional Republicans expected to attend.