Donald Trump pleads not guilty to charges of plotting to overturn 2020 election

Washington: Former US president Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty before an Indian-American judge to four charges that he plotted a criminal conspiracy to remain in power despite losing the November 2020 election.

Trump, 77, entered his plea on Thursday before Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya at a Washington, D.C., federal courthouse not far from the US Capitol, where the alleged conspiracy he’s accused of orchestrating turned violent on January 6, 2021.

Wearing a dark blue suit and a red tie, Trump arrived at the courthouse in a motorcade after he flew in from Bedminster in New Jersey.

Trump, who is seeking to contest the 2024 presidential election from the Republican Party, entered the not-guilty plea before Magistrate Judge Moxila A Upadhyaya as he appeared at the courthouse that sits just blocks away from the Capitol, where his angry supporters stormed the US Congress on January 6, 2021.

The former president was arrested and arraigned on four felony counts outlined in special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, attempting to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.

The 45-page indictment was filed in Washington, DC earlier this week by Smith, who has led investigations into the former president on behalf of the US Department of Justice.

“As to counts one to four, how does Mr Trump plead?” Judge Upadhyaya asked the former president in the courtroom. Trump, flanked by his lawyers, said: “Not guilty.” 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.

The judge told Trump that he would be released but there are certain conditions that he has to abide by and appear in the court as and when required. Trump’s next scheduled appearance is on August 28 before US District Judge Tanya Chutkan. But he has the option not to appear in person.

“Despite having lost, the defendant was determined to remain in power. So for more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the defendant spread 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,” the indictment reads.

The indictment was issued by a grand jury of citizens in the District of Columbia and sets forth the crimes charged in detail. It caps an inquiry into events surrounding the January 6, 2021 riot at the US Capitol.

“The attack on our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. As described in the indictment, it was fuelled by lies,” Smith said.

During the tense 27-minute proceeding, Trump was seated just 20 feet from Smith.

A significant point of tension during the proceeding was how soon will Trump stand trial.

Thomas Windom, the prosecutor helming the trial team for Smith, said the case should move quickly.

“This case will benefit from normal order, including a speedy trial,” Windom told the magistrate judge overseeing the arraignment.

But John Lauro, an attorney for the former president, said Trump’s legal team might need a long time to go through the evidence that prosecutors are required to hand over to the defence.

“These are weighty issues,” he said, adding that the Justice Department has had years to investigate the case. “All I’m going to ask, Your Honour, is the opportunity to fairly defend our client. But in order to do that, we’re going to need a little time.” Magistrate Judge Upadhyaya replied: “I can guarantee everybody that there will be a fair process and a fair trial in this case.” The Trump campaign has charged that Smith “has conducted a dirty, politically motivated investigation of President Trump to prevent him from winning back the presidency”.

Smith sat in the courtroom throughout the proceedings.

“At around 4 PM EDT, Biden’s weaponised Department of Justice will once again have its leading opponent (me) ARRAIGNED despite having committed NO CRIME. It sounds like a chapter you’d read out of an old history book on the Soviet Union or Maoist China… But sadly, it’s taking place right here in America,” Trump wrote in an email before he left New Jersey for the court appearance in Washington DC.

So far, federal prosecutors have filed cases against 1,077 people for the January 6 riots at the US Capitol. This is Trump’s third indictment but marks the first time that he has been formally held accountable for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the run-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the US Capitol.

In April, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump on charges related to payments in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels. In June, Trump was indicted in Miami for allegedly retaining White House documents, including classified documents.

In addition to the newest case accusing him of seeking to overturn the 2020 election, Smith’s team has also charged him in Florida with hoarding classified documents after he left the White House. The trial in that case is scheduled to begin on May 20, 2024.