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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Trump pleads not guilty to charges that he plotted to overturn election

Former President Donald Trump, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, arrives at Reagan National Airport in Washington en route to his arraignment in federal court on Thursday, Aug. 3, 2023. Trump is facing charges of trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

By Glenn Thrush

Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he conspired to remain in office despite his 2020 election loss, appearing before a judge in a Washington courthouse in the shadow of the Capitol, where his supporters had rampaged in an effort to undermine the peaceful transfer of power.

Trump, who is running in the hopes of being sworn in again on the steps of the Capitol, stood before a federal magistrate judge who asked for his plea to the four counts he faced. He replied, “Not guilty.”

It was the third time in four months that Trump had stood before a judge on criminal charges. But it was the most momentous, the beginning of what prosecutors say should be a reckoning for his multipronged efforts to undermine one of the core tenets of democracy.

Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya, who oversaw the roughly half-hour hearing, ordered Trump not to communicate about the case with any witnesses except through counsel or in the presence of counsel. At the request of Trump’s lawyers, she set the date for the first hearing before the trial judge, Tanya Chutkan, for Aug. 28 — the latest option she provided.

Delaying the proceedings as much as possible is widely expected to be part of Trump’s legal strategy, given that he could effectively call off federal cases against him if he wins the 2024 election.

The jockeying began on Thursday. After Upadhyaya gave prosecutors a week to propose a trial date, one of Trump’s lawyers, John Lauro, complained that the government had had years to investigate and that he and his colleagues were going to need time to fairly defend their client. She directed him to bring it up with the trial judge, and for prosecutors to respond within five days of his filing.

Following the hearing, Trump spoke briefly at Reagan National Airport, saying it was “a very sad day for America.”

Trump said he was a victim of “persecution” by President Joe Biden’s Justice Department. “This was never supposed to happen in America,” he said before boarding his private plane to return to Bedminster, New Jersey.

The courthouse where Trump appeared has hosted a stream of trials for Trump supporters accused of attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Security was heavy, with officers on foot and on horseback and barricades erected on the sidewalk. The crowd — made up of Trump’s critics and his supporters — clogged the area outside the courthouse, with some carrying pro-Trump signs and others shouting anti-Trump slogans, including “Lock him up!”

Here’s what to know:

— Trump’s appearance came about six weeks after his arraignment in Miami on federal charges of mishandling government documents after he left the White House and seeking to block investigators. As in that case, he did not have a mug shot taken.

— The hearing before Upadhyaya, who was appointed to the bench last year, lived up to the expectations that it would be relatively straightforward. Trump entered his plea of not guilty and the government presented its conditions for his release. As in the Florida case, prosecutors requested no bail and no restrictions on his travel.

— Three members of the small team of veteran prosecutors overseen by special counsel Jack Smith will be at the forefront of the election case. Trump’s legal team has added a new member specifically for this latest indictment.

— Trump is under indictment in two other cases. He is charged with 40 counts in the documents case and 34 felony counts in a New York state case in the spring in connection with a hush money payment to a pornographic actress before the 2016 election. Trump could face a fourth criminal case before the month is over: The district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is investigating Trump’s efforts to undermine the 2020 election.

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