Trump charged with falsifying records. What is that?

What are the 34 counts against Trump?

Former president Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to more than 30 counts of felonious falsifying business records Tuesday.

Trump’s indictment came after a grand jury probe into hush money paid during the 2016 presidential campaign to squelch allegations of an extramarital sexual encounter. The indictment itself has remained sealed, as is standard in New York before an arraignment.

The investigation dug into six-figure payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Both claim to have had sexual encounters with the married Trump years before he got into politics. He denies having sexual liaisons with either woman.

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What is falsifying business records?

According to New York state law, falsifying records can either be classified in first or second degree.

To be considered a second-degree, a person must be guilty of "the destruction or alteration of a business record."

First-degree is when a person "commits the crime of falsifying business records in the second degree, and when his intent  to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof."

Examples could be "makes or causes a false entry in the business records of an enterprise," "alters, erases, obliterates, deletes, removes or destroys a true entry in the business records of an enterprise," "omits to make a true entry in the business records of an enterprise in violation of a duty to do so which he or she knows to be imposed upon him or her by law or by the nature of his or her position," or "prevents the making of a true entry or causes the omission thereof in the business records of an enterprise."

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What is the penalty for falsifying records?

If a person is found guilty of second-degree falsifying records, that is considered a misdemeanor that could include up to one year in jail. Probation would also be an alternative.

First-degree falsifying records is considered a felony and a convict could face up to four years in prison. However, probation, community service, fines or some other predetermined condition are not off the table.

What is the case against Trump?

According to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump and his associates are accused of a "'catch and kill' scheme to identify, purchase, and bury negative information about him and boost his electoral prospects." between August 2015 and December 2017. 

"Trump then went to great lengths to hide this conduct, causing dozens of false entries in business records to conceal criminal activity, including attempts to violate state and federal election laws," Bragg said in a press release. 

Bragg said in once instance, American Media Inc., or AMI, paid $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman. The doorman claimed to have a story about a child Trump had out of wedlock.

The D.A. also said in another instance, AMI paid $150,000 to a woman who alleged she had a sexual relationship with Trump. Bragg said Trump explicitly directed an unidentified lawyer from Trump's special counsel to reimburse AMI. The lawyer said the payment should be made via a shell company and not by cash. However, AMI ultimately declined the reimbursement but had "made false entries in its business records concerning the true purpose of the $150,000 payment."

Bragg also pointed out a third instance that Trump's special counsel wired $130,000 to an attorney for an adult film actress days before the presidential general election.  The special counsel made the payment through a shell corporation funded through a Manhattan bank and later pleaded guilty and served time in prison. However, Bragg said Trump reimbursed the special counsel through checks issued for a phony purpose. Bragg said nine of the checks were signed by Trump and each check was processed by the Trump Organization and illegally disguised as a payment for legal services. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.