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.