‘Donald Trump glared at me as he entered the court’: Inside the former president’s hearing

Court sketch artists drawing of Donald Trump

From everything I had read, and seen on television, of Donald Trump, I was preparing for a man of large stature. The 6’3 politician is known for his outsized presence at campaign rallies and on our screens.

But in Courtroom 59 of Manhattan’s Criminal Court, he cast a much smaller figure, he was a man humbled.

He appeared in the doorway of the hot, stuffy courtroom in his signature dark blue suit and red tie just before 2.30pm. In the first indignity of many to come, a court official who had been walking ahead of him either unthinkingly, or very deliberately, failed to hold the door open for him, which forced the former president to reach his arm out to stop it from slamming in his face.

The 76-year-old then made his way, slowly and sombrely, to the front of the room to his waiting lawyers.

He made a point of staring straight at the person on the end of each row, which I interpreted as a power move by a man who had – perhaps for the first time in his adult life – been stripped of it. He shot me a glare from my position at the back of the public gallery. It felt, in the moment, like one of contempt.

The former president watches Christopher Conroy, the assistant district attorney, left, outline the case against him - Elizabeth Williams/AP

The former reality star’s famous orange glow seemed more suited to a TV courtroom than the drab reality of the Manhattan hearing. The gap where his make-up ended and hairline started was much more obvious in person.

“All rise!” a small court clerk seemed to boom out of nowhere. Judge Juan Merchan walked in briskly and gathered himself behind the bench. “All right,” he said. “Let’s arraign Mr Trump.”

The clerk announced that the People of the State of New York v. Donald J Trump involved 34 counts of falsifying business records. “How do you plead to this indictment?” the judge asked. “Not guilty,” the defendant answered.

He was posed several further questions by Judge Merchan, a man the former president has made no secret of loathing. “Yes” and “thank you,” came his polite and rather differential replies.

Mr Trump may command a movement of millions of supporters worldwide, a business empire, endless news cycles, and the Republican Party, but, in the courtroom on Tuesday April 4, it was clear the judge was in charge.

He would utter just 10 words during the hearing, allowed to speak only when spoken to.

And with that it was over. Mr Trump was escorted out the same door he came in to face the horde of photographers waiting in the hallway outside.


New York City reportedly spent $200 million (£16.06 million) on security arrangements for the former president’s 45 minute court appearance. It was not hard to believe. I’ve covered several criminal and federal trials in my three years as The Telegraph’s New York Correspondent, but never have I seen quite so much fanfare for an arraignment before.

It was the sort of grand spectacle that the 45th president would ordinarily revel in.

Reporters – some of whom had been queueing outside the courthouse at 100 Center Street for about 24 hours before the hearing – were made to go through two metal detectors and two separate security checks.

We were assigned colour-coded tickets – green for the lucky few who got to sit inside the courtroom itself, white and yellow for those in the overflow rooms who could follow proceedings through time-delayed closed-circuit cameras.

Each row of the gallery was guarded on either side by court police officials, all wearing stab-proof vests and armed with handcuffs and walkie-talkies. There must have been roughly 20 officers for the 50 or so journalists admitted.

They gave us warnings that they would strictly enforce; no standing, no eating, no use of electronics or risk contempt of court, and no leaving until the proceedings were over.

Even Donald Trump was banned from using his phone. For 45 minutes no one in the world knew what he was thinking. It was a final debasement for a man who could well still be the next president of the United States.