What are the charges against Donald Trump?

Mr Trump is the first former US president to appear in court on criminal charges - Reuters
Mr Trump is the first former US president to appear in court on criminal charges - Reuters

Donald Trump made an unprecedented appearance before a New York judge on Tuesday to answer criminal charges, threatening to throw the 2024 White House race into turmoil.

Mr Trump is the first former American president to be criminally indicted - a historic development that has propelled the United States into uncharted political waters.

Here is what you need to know about Mr Trump's court case.

What is Mr Trump charged with?

The indictment against Donald Trump has been unsealed and details 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Prosecutors have accused the former president of directing three different instances of hush money payments to cover up alleged affairs.

One payment is a $130,000 sum allegedly made to the former porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016, who claims she had an affair with Mr Trump.

The money was paid by Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s lawyer and long-time fixer. The story was killed. Two years later, Mr Cohen was jailed for three years on eight counts, including tax fraud and campaign finance violations.

Mr Trump has continuously denied he had any sexual contact with Ms Daniels.

What were the campaign finance violations?

It is alleged the purpose of the hush money payments was to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. The $130,000 payment was way over the $2,700 limit on personal donations.

So why is Mr Trump in the dock?

According to court filings, the Trump organisation paid Mr Cohen $420,000, which included reimbursing the $130,000 which was paid to Ms Daniels. Mr Trump has denied knowledge of the payment.

However, Mr Cohen claims that Mr Trump personally signed a cheque for $35,000. In February 2019, Mr Cohen produced the cheque at a hearing in Congress. He also told legislators he had received 11 cheques from Mr Trump.

Is it a misdemeanour or a felony?

Falsifying business records is classed as a misdemeanour – a minor offence – in New York. But doing so to aid or conceal another offence, in this case breaking campaign finance laws – is a class E felony.

What does the prosecution have to prove?

Prosecutors would have to prove not only that the records were deliberately falsified, but done with the intention of violating campaign finance laws.

Could Mr Trump face a potential prison sentence?

If convicted of a Class E felony, the former president faces a potential jail term of up to four years.

Have other senior politicians been charged with campaign finance violations?

John Edwards, who was John Kerry’s running mate in 2004, ran for the Oval Office himself in 2008. Three years later he was indicted on six felony charges by a Grand Jury after allegedly soliciting nearly $1 million (£800,000) from donors to pay off his pregnant mistress. Although the North Carolina senator was acquitted at the trial, his political career was finished.