Former U.S. President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday in Washington to a four-count federal indictment that he illegally attempted to overturn his 2020 reelection loss to stay in power for another four years in the White House.
Trump, who has denied all wrongdoing in the array of allegations he is facing, entered his plea in a rare trip to the U.S. capital 2½ years after voters ousted him after a single term.
Amid tight security at the U.S. Courthouse, he sat through a half-hour arraignment, answering routine questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya, giving his full name, Donald John Trump, his age, 77, and avowed that he was not under the influence of any drugs.
Upadhyaya read the charges to Trump accusing him of conspiring against the United States to overthrow his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, now the U.S. president, and listed the lengthy prison terms he would face if convicted.
Then Trump, wearing his customary dark blue suit and red tie, told the judge he was pleading not guilty to the 45-page indictment handed up Tuesday by a federal grand jury at the behest of Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.
Smith was in the courtroom seated a short distance from Trump, but the two adversaries did not appear to interact. Trump sat at the defense table, listening to the judge, leaning forward, clenching his hands.
“This is very quiet,” Trump remarked before the hearing started, with the judge taking the bench about 10 minutes late. He had already been booked with his fingerprints taken, but since Trump is a universally recognized figure, authorities skipped taking his mug shot.
Upadhyaya set August 28 for the next hearing in the case, and it will be conducted by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who was randomly selected to oversee Trump’s trial. Upadhyaya said Chutkan was willing to waive Trump’s appearance at the first hearing if he does not want to show up.
A trial in the case could be months away, although government prosecutors are pushing for a date sooner rather than later. Upadhyaya said Chutkan would set a trial date at the hearing later this month.
Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche said the former president’s lawyers needed an estimate from Smith’s lawyers of the volume of documents and electronic files prosecutors are required to turn over to them and the degree to which they have exculpatory information about Trump.
After the hearing, Trump quickly headed to Reagan National Airport for a flight on his private jet back to his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey.
He characterized the indictment as a “persecution” and called it “a very sad day for America.”
Trump held an oversized black umbrella as a light rain fell and also criticized Washington itself.
“It was also very sad driving through Washington, D.C., and seeing the filth and the decay and all of the broken buildings and walls and the graffiti,” he said. “This is not the place that I left. It’s a very sad thing to see it when you look at what’s happening.”
Ahead of his trip to Washington, Trump assailed the case against him in a string of remarks on his Truth Social media site.
"I am now going to Washington, D.C., to be arrested for having challenged a corrupt, rigged & stolen election," the former president told his supporters. "It is a great honor, because I am being arrested for you.”
In a fiery fundraising email, the former president assailed Biden for overseeing "a dystopian Third World dictatorship that has only temporarily taken control of our once great and free Republic."
Trump is the first U.S. president, in office or after his term, in the country’s 247-year history, to face criminal charges.
The case in Washington is the third indictment filed against Trump in the past four months and the most all-encompassing, accusing him of attempting to undermine the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next, one of the central tenets of U.S. democracy.
It accuses him of orchestrating a plan to retain power, though aides repeatedly told him he had lost the election and there was no proof of substantial fraud that would have changed the outcome.
The indictment accuses Trump of spreading lies that “there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won. These claims were false, and the Defendant knew that they were false.”
“He deliberately disregarded the truth,” the indictment alleges.
The indictment, in sum, accuses him of targeting “a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
Despite the growing number of criminal charges leveled against Trump, he is far and away the leading Republican contender for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination and could again face Biden.
Trump is also facing a state trial in New York in March 2024 on charges that he altered business records at his real estate conglomerate to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to an adult film performer ahead of his successful 2016 run for the presidency to silence her claim that she had a one-night tryst with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied the affair occurred.
In another case, Smith indicted Trump on charges that he illegally retained 32 highly classified national security documents at his oceanside Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida after he left office in early 2021 and then conspired with a personal aide to keep from having to hand them over to federal investigators who had subpoenaed them. That trial is set for next May.
Security was tight around the U.S. courthouse in Washington, with some streets closed to traffic and large trucks with plow blades positioned bumper to bumper to block entryways in the event any troublemakers appeared. Dozens of officers stood guard in the area. Tow trucks were removing parked cars.
A handful of sign-carrying Trump opponents showed up, as did some Trump supporters.
The courthouse is located just blocks from the U.S. Capitol, near where Trump on January 6, 2021, urged thousands of his supporters to go and “fight like hell” to prevent lawmakers from certifying that Biden had won the election.
About 2,000 rioters rampaged into the Capitol building that day, clashing with police, ransacking congressional offices and delaying until the early hours of January 7 the final votes in the Electoral College showing that Biden had won. Trump, to no avail, had demanded that then-Vice President Mike Pence, presiding over the Electoral College vote count, block the outcome to keep them in power.
More than 1,000 rioters have been charged with offenses stemming from the unrest. In the same courthouse where Trump was arraigned Thursday, about 700 of them have been convicted and more than 560 sentenced to terms of up to 18 years in prison.