Former President Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday on charges he faces stemming from his efforts to remain in power after losing the 2020 election.
It was the second time this year Trump was face-to-face with special counsel Jack Smith, this time facing four counts, including on efforts to defraud the U.S. and obstruct congressional proceedings, as the Justice Department contends his plot to remain in power was “fueled by lies.”
His motorcade arrived around 3:15 p.m. at Washington’s federal courthouse, blocks from the U.S. Capitol, where a mob of his supporters rioted on Jan. 6, 2021, as a result of those efforts.
Trump walked into the courtroom wearing his signature blue suit and red tie with a stony expression on his face, a look that changed little during the brief proceedings.
The former president spoke little during the hearing, answering questions about his name and age, while rarely glancing at prosecutors. When asked whether he understood that his words could be used against him, he replied in the affirmative.
While largely procedural in nature, the historic nature of Trump’s appearance was reflected by some unusual attendees – several federal district court judges were sitting in the gallery.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya presided over the appearance, though she will not oversee the trial. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee who has given out strong sentences to Jan. 6 defendants.
The former president was left waiting for the judge for 24 minutes, while nearly a dozen federal agents stood behind him.
Trump was joined by his attorneys, John Lauro and Todd Blanche who had a back-and-forth with government prosecutors who said they were prepared to produce “substantial discovery” on a quick timeline, requesting a speedy trial.
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Defense attorneys said they did not want a speedy trial, given the purported extensive evidence.
Upadhyaya ultimately scheduled Trump’s next court appearance in the case for Aug. 28, the date that the former president’s attorneys said they preferred.
The judge also assured Trump and his team that he would get a “fair trial” in DC.
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Va., as he heads to Washington to face a judge on federal conspiracy charges alleging Trump conspired to subvert the 2020 election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
The former president had complained he will be unable to get a fair trial in D.C., floating that his legal team will seek to move the case to West Virginia – a motion unlikely to be successful.
Upadhyaya also reminded Trump that bribing or influencing witnesses, or retaliating against them, is a crime – a notable warning, given the House committee that investigated the Capitol attack alleged the ex-president and his allies made efforts to contact and influence a witness in that probe.
“Are you prepared to comply?” the judge asked of Trump.
“Yes,” Trump responded.
Nearly every step of the scheme Trump is charged with — from pushing the Justice Department to launch investigations into his baseless claims of fraud to pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence and a whole suite of state officials to play a role in rejecting the results to submitting false electoral certificates — were covered in a historic indictment unveiled Tuesday.
Each effort was used to support charges under conspiracy to defraud the United States, two tied to a statute that bars disruption of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights — a Reconstruction-era law protecting the right to vote.
“Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power,” prosecutors said in the Tuesday indictment.
The indictment details a string of false statements Trump made about his electoral performance, alleging the former president was aware — and repeatedly advised — such claims were untrue.
“These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false,” the indictment reads. “But the Defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway — to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election.”
Former President Donald Trump boards his plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023, in Arlington, Va., after facing a judge on federal conspiracy charges that allege he conspired to subvert the 2020 election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Trump has claimed each case filed against him this year is part of a broader effort to hamper him in the 2024 election.
“Look, it’s not my fault that my political opponent in the Democrat Party, Crooked Joe Biden, has told his Attorney General to charge the leading (by far!) Republican Nominee & former President of the United States, me, with as many crimes as can be concocted,” Trump wrote on social media ahead of the arraignment.
Outside the courthouse Thursday, a smattering of demonstrators gathered to show support for the former president. The protesters were hugely outnumbered by swarms of media camped out on the south and west sides of the building.
The arraignment in a D.C. courtroom was Trump’s third this year, following the filing of charges in New York relating to his efforts to conceal hush money payments and another case brought by Smith stemming from the mishandling and retention of classified records at Mar-a-Lago.
Between all three cases, Trump now faces a combined 78 criminal charges and the risk of jail time, if convicted.
Updated 6:47 p.m.