Donald Trump, the former president and front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, was formally charged on Tuesday in a watershed moment for the United States as his supporters and detractors noisily rallied outside.
Trump, stone-faced and silent as he entered and exited the 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.
All told, the voluble Trump spoke only about 10 words during the entire proceeding.
"Donald J. Trump repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
Bragg said Trump arranged for the payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about a 2006 sexual encounter.
Trump and his campaign have repeatedly assailed Bragg and even trained scrutiny on members of Bragg's family.
The twice-impeached Republican is the first sitting or former American president to be criminally indicted - a development that has propelled the United States into uncharted political waters.
Police lined the streets while helicopters buzzed in the skies as Trump's motorcade made the short drive to court, a journey given wall-to-wall live coverage on US networks although cameras will not be allowed for the hearing itself.
Trump waved at supporters after leaving his car before walking into the complex under US Secret Service protection. He was not subjected to a "perp walk" - in which a defendant is escorted in handcuffs past media cameras.
Trump, who has called the charges politically motivated, held his fist in the air in a gesture to reporters as he departed Trump Tower for the short drive to the courthouse.
At the scene, the anti-Trump camp unfurled a large banner reading "Trump lies all the time" and chanted "Lock him up!" as Trump fans waved a flag with the slogan "Trump or Death."
Before departing for the courthouse, he made a defiant post on social media.
"Seems so SURREAL - WOW, they are going to ARREST ME," Trump posted on his Truth Social app as he headed to the courthouse from Trump Tower, where he spent the night after flying from Florida.
"Can't believe this is happening in America. MAGA!"
Trump also posted "THE RADICAL LEFT DEMOCRATS HAVE CRIMINALIZED THE JUSTICE SYSTEM," hours before the hearing, branding the proceedings a "kangaroo court."
In other social media posts ahead of the arraignment, Trump renewed his attacks on Judge Merchan, who last year presided over a trial in which Trump's real estate company was convicted of tax fraud.
Trump, who served as president from 2017 to 2021, in November announced a bid to regain the presidency in 2024 in a bid to deny Democratic President Joe Biden, who beat him in 2020, a second term in the White House.
President Joe Biden, mindful that anything he might say could fuel Trump's claim of a politically "weaponized" judicial system, is one of the few Democrats holding back over the indictment of his rival.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden would "catch part of the news when he has a moment," but insisted: "This is not something that's a focus for him."
This report was sourced from the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.