Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts
Former President Trump, in Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday, pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.
- Plus, in a blow to Russia, Finland becomes a member of NATO.
- And, some big improvements at airports across the U.S.
Guests: Axios' David Lindsey, Alex Fitzpatrick and ProPublica/NPR's Ilya Marritz.
Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.
- Trump pleads not guilty to 34 counts in hush-money case
- Read: The 34-count indictment against Trump
- Finland becomes 31st member of NATO
NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!
It’s Wednesday, April 5th.
I’m Niala Boodhoo.
Today on the show: Finland becomes a member of NATO, dealing a blow to Russia. Plus, some big improvements at airports across the U.S. But first, former president Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts. Understanding the charges and what comes next – that’s today’s One Big Thing.
Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts
NIALA: Yesterday in a Manhattan criminal court, Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree.
ALVIN BRAGG: No matter who you are, we cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct.
NIALA: That's Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg at a news conference yesterday.
Trump made his first public remarks after the arraignment last night at Mar-a-Lago.
DONALD TRUMP: I never thought anything like this could happen in America, never thought it could happen.
NIALA: Axios’ David Lindsay and ProPublica and NPR’s Ilya Marrtiz are here with more.
Illya, we heard a lot about Catch and Kill yesterday. What does that have to do with the former president?
ILYA MARRITZ: This was one of the most interesting developments to me actually, because for weeks at this point, we've been hearing that this case is being built around Stormy Daniels and the hush money payment that she received, with Michael Cohen as the middleman fixer, in the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
This indictment or, or specifically the fact sheet attached to the indictment points to two other instances of a similar catch and kill phenomenon. One involving another woman who alleged an affair with Donald Trump, Karen McDougal, and the other one involving a doorman in New York City who said he had some information about an out of wedlock child of Donald Trump's, information that the National Enquirer, which they got involved in looking at.
Later determined to be, not credible, but nevertheless, the National Enquirer, according to DA Alvin Bragg, formulated a plan with Donald Trump and Michael Cohen in 2015 when Donald Trump started running for president to suppress bad news stories for Trump and to push out bad news stories for Trump's adversaries. And, that gives us a more complete picture than we got at the time that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to his crimes.
NIALA: David, was there anything that surprised you about yesterday's proceedings?
DAVID LINDSEY: Yeah, the way Trump looked, he's always been surrounded by family, friends, secret service in court. He looked very much alone. We noticed when he came into the court or was headed toward the courtroom, no one held the door open for.and he was clearly very sullen. I think he was back to his old self in Mar-a-Lago, last night, when he gave that speech and, uh, listed his usual grievances. But it was a very different Donald Trump who was in court yesterday.
NIALA: Was it surprising to either of you what the judge said to former President Trump about speaking about the case?
DAVID: They spent a long time on this about threats. Things that Trump had posted on social media calling the DA Alan Bragg an animal, and having a, carrying a baseball bat while he did that. He said, Judge Juan Merchan hates me. And then yesterday morning, Donald Trump Jr. posted a photo of the judge's daughter and said that she was a Biden Harris supporter. Really, way out bounds, under normal circumstances, under any circumstances really. And so I think there was a heavy interest by the state to, uh, discourage that the judge did it in a way that, in which he was speaking to both sides. But clearly I think the message was received that it was, he was aimed largely at Trump.
ILYA: The message was received, but the message was not followed because like an hour later, Trump is back on his social network, Truth Social, talking more hostile stuff to Stormy Daniels and DA Alvin Bragg and, you know, Bragg's ADAs had just been in there saying you could intimidate a witness with your language. You could spoil the jury pool with the things that you say, please don't say these things. And immediately he goes out and says them, and then he has a news conference at Mar-a-Lago and says them for millions of people in primetime. It was really something to behold.
NIALA: In front of a primetime audience, he called the DA in Manhattan a criminal. He said the DOJ special counsel Jack Smith was “a lunatic.” And the New York Attorney General Letitia James was “a racist in reverse.” Ilya, are there legal ramifications for the president saying this?
ILYA: I think it's gonna be on a case by case basis. And Judge Merchan today sort of showed us the initial kind of baby step that a court might take when this comes up. He said,I am not prepared to do any kind of gag order far from it. However, if this kind of behavior continues, I would be a little bit more open to it, which I thought was interesting. This Judge Juan Merchan actually oversaw the trial of the Trump Corporation last fall, and he oversaw the guilty plea of Alan Weisselberg, the Chief Financial Officer. So he is very familiar with Trump's methods and Trump's words, and I think he probably had no illusions that his stern warning would be effective.
But nevertheless, there is a protocol that you follow, even with the kind of really violent and out of line language that that President Trump has been using. There is a protocol that you start with a warning and then you give a stronger warning, and then maybe eventually there are real remedies like gag orders.
DAVID: One key thing here to keep in mind, Niala, is that Trump's defense, certainly his political stature is based on victimhood. And, if the judge sanctions him, he's almost inviting a gag order, which is a, is a huge step in this case because you would be gagging a presidential candidate, as a campaign starts. And I think Trump is almost inviting that because it feeds his narrative of being the victim.
NIALA: Axios’ Managing Editor for Politics David Lindsay and ProPublica and NPR reporter, Ilya Marritz. Thank you both.
DAVID: Thank you, Niala.
ILYA: You're welcome.
NIALA: In a moment, why Finland’s new NATO membership matters for the war in Ukraine.
Finland becomes a member of NATO
NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo.
Finland’s national anthem was played as its flag was raised yesterday at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium and its two strategic commands.
In a historic move, Finland became the 31st member of NATO yesterday...something that will significantly change the security landscape in Europe. This is also a major blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, because Finland’s membership more than doubles the western military alliance’s border with Russia.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg spoke at the NATO headquarters yesterday:
JENS STOLTENBERG: Finland will participate in all NATO structures but of course, most importantly, Finland will be covered by NATO’s ironclad security guarantees.
NIALA: Finland adopted a stance of neutrality after World War II, but applied to be part of NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Stoltenberg said Finland’s accession process was the fastest in NATO's modern history. Sweden has also applied to be part of NATO, but objections from Turkey and Hungary have delayed that process.
Big improvements at airports across the U.S.
NIALA: Many of us are coming home or about to head on trips for Spring Break. I’m actually headed across the Atlantic later this week. While the airport experience isn’t one I always look forward to - according to Axios’ Alex Fitzpatrick, “airports are suddenly pretty good right now.”
ALEX FITZPATRICK: Big new upgrades have been made everywhere from LaGuardia to Orlando, to Kansas City, Detroit, and even Newark is looking pretty good these days, all of a sudden. Most of these are cosmetic upgrades and passenger experience upgrades with bright new area terminals, faster boarding areas, even more USB ports and charging in different seats, and that's always nice when you need to get some work done or make a few phone calls before your flight boards.
One really cool new upgrade that I'd flag is, Kansas City just installed this thing called an air travel experience simulation, where it's a cross section of a real jetliner where first time or nervous or, neurodivergent passengers can get a taste of what the real air travel experience will be like before they board their actual flight.
There's still plenty of airports out there that need big upgrades. There's big money in the, uh, bipartisan infrastructure deal for airport upgrades, and some of that's going to the sort of front end passenger experience. Some of it's going to, to new air traffic control towers. The big story right now is regional airports across the country are shutting down or, or losing service because, the economics don't make sense for the airlines to operate there anymore, but that cuts certain communities off from the wider air travel network. So that's a problem for them. All that said, even people who usually hate the airport might find something to like the next time they fly.
NIALA: Axios’ What’s Next Editor Alex Fitzpatrick. The Detroit airport - one of the first where I ever used facial recognition - has added a massive futuristic departure board that uses facial recognition to give you customized travel info. Newark also has a new play area for kids to stretch their legs before a long flight. And you may have noticed lactation rooms are common at pretty much all airports. Do you have a great - or not so good - story to share about airports? You can text me at 202-918-4893.
And that’s it for us today. I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.