Trump pleads not guilty of plotting to overturn election loss

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Photo- Reuters

Donald Trump pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges he orchestrated a plot to try to overturn his 2020 election loss in what U.S. prosecutors call an unprecedented effort by the then-president to undermine the pillars of American democracy.

Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has overseen the federal investigation, looked on from the courtroom’s front row as Trump entered his plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya.

“Not guilty,” Trump said, emphasizing the first word.

The arraignment, lasting about half an hour, took place in a Washington courthouse half a mile (1 km) from the U.S. Capitol, the building Trump’s supporters stormed on Jan. 6, 2021, to try to stop Congress from certifying his defeat.

It was the third time Trump has pleaded not guilty since April, with months of pretrial legal wrangling expected against the backdrop of the 2024 presidential campaign, in which Trump is the front-runner for the Republican nomination to take on Democratic President Joe Biden.

In a 45-page indictment on Tuesday, Smith accused Trump and his allies of promoting false claims the election was rigged, pressuring state and federal officials to alter the results and assembling fake slates of electors to try to wrest electoral votes from Biden.

Trump, 77, faces four counts, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S., to deprive citizens of their voting rights and to obstruct an official proceeding. The most serious charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The next court date in the case will be Aug. 28 before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, though Upadhyaya said Trump would not be required to attend. Chutkan intends to set a trial date at that time, Upadhyaya said.

Trump’s lawyer, John Lauro, registered an early objection, arguing that the magnitude of the case and the amount of materials involved could require a lot of time.

Prosecutor Thomas Windom countered that the case should proceed as normal, including with a speedy trial.

Trump was released without travel restrictions. One of his conditions of release is that he not discuss the case with any witnesses unless accompanied by his lawyers.

Trump has portrayed the indictment, as well as the other criminal cases against him, as a “witch hunt” intended to derail his White House campaign.

‘SAD DAY FOR AMERICA’

“This is a very sad day for America,” Trump told reporters after the hearing before boarding his private plane to return to his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. “This is a persecution of a political opponent.”

Trump’s first of two impeachments, in 2019, was for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, his Democratic rival. Senate Republicans acquitted him of those charges.

Trump walked into the courtroom wearing a red tie and navy blue suit with an American flag lapel pin. About 10 Secret Service agents stood against the wall behind him.

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