WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he engaged in criminal conspiracies aimed at subverting the 2020 presidential election results and keeping himself in power — a significant moment in one of the most consequential tests of the U.S. Constitution and its criminal justice system.
Trump was arraigned on an indictment charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction; and conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the case against Trump, was seated in the front row for the proceeding, about 10 feet away from the former president who's labeled him a "deranged prosecutor." Smith was in Trump's sightline, and Trump appeared to avoid looking at him.
Trump stood when asked for his plea, and said "not guilty" to all counts.
The arraignment was another remarkable and unprecedented moment in American history, with a former president and current Republican presidential frontrunner standing accused of trying to overturn the bedrock of democracy, a free and fair election. Trump is the first former president to ever face criminal charges, and he's now been indicted in three separate cases in three separate locales over the past four months.
At the airport after the hearing, Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing, told reporters "this is a very sad day for America."
"This is a persecution of a political opponent," he said. "This was never supposed to happen in America."
United States of America vs. Donald J. Trump
In court, the government said it wanted to proceed with a speedy trial in the case, which Trump lawyer John Lauro objected to, citing the likely "massive" amount of discovery they're expecting to receive from Smith's team.
Prosecutor Thomas Windom said the government is prepared to hand over a "substantial volume of discovery, including discovery that we are not obligated at this time to turn over" as soon as a protective order is put in place.
Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya set a return date of Aug. 28th in the case before the judge who will be overseeing it, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan. She said Chutkan expects to set a trial date at that hearing, and that Trump can waive appearing at that hearing.
Upadhyaya ordered Smith's office to file a submission in seven days estimating their schedule for when a trial should be set and how long they expected it to take, and gave the defense five days after that to respond.
Before the hearing started, Trump sat at the defense table with his hands clasped and chatted with his two attorneys, Lauro and Todd Blanche, who each sat next to him.
The proceeding before Upadhyaya began with the court clerk calling the case — “United States of America vs. Donald J. Trump” and lasted a little under half an hour.
Windom laid out the government's conditions of release, including that "the defendant must not communicate about the facts of the case to any individual known to be a witness except through counsel or in the presence of counsel.”
The judge also warned Trump: “It is a crime to try to influence a juror or to threaten or attempt to bribe a witness or any other person who may have information about your case, or to retaliate against anyone for providing information about your case to the prosecution, or to otherwise obstruct the administration of justice. Do you understand these warnings and consequences, sir?”
"Yes," Trump replied.
The judge added that if he violated the conditions of release, “You may be held pending trial in this case.”
At least three federal court judges were seen sitting in the back row of the courtroom for the proceeding, and three officers who served on Jan. 6 — Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Hodges, former Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell and Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn — watched the arraignment from an overflow room at the courthouse.
Trump was fingerprinted and processed at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse before the hearing.
Trump left New Jersey, where he has been living during the summer, shortly after 2 p.m. ET.
"I am now going to Washington, D.C. to be arrested for having challenged a corrupt, rigged & stolen election," Trump wrote in an all-caps post on his social media website Truth Social shortly after noon. He arrived at Reagan National Airport in his private plane emblazoned with his last name shortly before 3 p.m.
Security was tightened in the area around the courthouse ahead of the appearance and possible protests from supporters and detractors of the polarizing former president.
Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement on social media Wednesday that his agency was “working closely with the Metropolitan Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Capitol Police and the Federal Protective Service to ensure the highest levels of safety and security for the former president, while minimizing disruptions to the normal court process.”
A spokesman for the Marshals Service said Thursday that Trump would be digitally fingerprinted as part of the booking process, but no mugshot will be taken. Officials will use an existing picture of the much-photographed former president as his booking photo.
By 5 p.m. ET Wednesday, about 50 people had already lined up outside in order to attend the proceedings, including several news organizations.
Alina Habba, a legal spokesperson for Trump's Save America PAC, spoke to reporters outside the courthouse shortly after Trump's arrival, and maintained Trump "used the law in an appropriate manner" in the weeks after the election. "This," Habba said, gesturing to the scene outside of the courthouse, "is not appropriate."
The courthouse is about a block away from the Capitol complex, and roughly a third of a mile away from the U.S. Capitol building, which was stormed by angry Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to prevent the certification of his defeat.
A federal grand jury voted Tuesday to indict Trump following a sprawling investigation by Smith's office into Trump's efforts to remain in power after losing the presidential election.
The indictment alleges Trump engaged in three criminal conspiracies, all aimed at keeping him in the White House.
"Each of these conspiracies — which built on the widespread mistrust the Defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud — targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election," the indictment said.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and maintains Smith is engaging in "election interference" by bringing criminal charges against him while he seeks to return to the White House.
The case is the second Smith has brought against Trump in two months. In June, Smith brought a 37-count indictment against Trump in Florida on charges of mishandling national security information and obstruction. Trump has pleaded not guilty in that case, which he’s labeled “the boxes hoax.” Trump was hit with additional counts in the case last week.
Trump was also arraigned in New York criminal court in April, where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to his alleged role in hush money payments toward the end of his 2016 presidential campaign.
In all, Trump has been hit with 78 felony counts in the three cases.
A prosecutor in Fulton County, Georgia, has also said she is considering bringing charges against Trump for trying to reverse his defeat there and could present a case to the grand jury there in the coming weeks.
Trump issued what appeared to be a taunting message to Willis on Truth Social on Thursday. "I need one more indictment to ensure my election!" the post said.