Donald Trump is due in federal court Thursday to answer to charges that he sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election, facing a judge just blocks from the U.S. Capitol that his supporters stormed to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
In what’s by now become a familiar but nonetheless stunning ritual, Trump is expected to be processed by law enforcement, be officially taken into custody and enter a not guilty plea in front of a judge before being released, so he can rejoin the campaign trail as he seeks to reclaim the White House in 2024.
An indictment Tuesday from Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith charges Trump with four felony counts related to his efforts to undo the presidential election in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The charges could lead to a yearslong prison sentence in the event of a conviction.
Trump was the only person charged in the case, though prosecutors referenced six co-conspirators — mostly lawyers — they say he plotted with, including in a scheme to enlist fake electors in seven battleground states won by President Joe Biden to submit false certificates to the federal government.
The indictment chronicles how Trump and allies, in what Smith described as an attack on a “bedrock function of the U.S. government,” repeatedly lied about the results in the two months since he lost the election and pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, and state election officials to take action to help him cling to power.
This is the third criminal case brought against Trump in the last six months. He was charged in New York with falsifying business records in connection with an alleged hush money payment to a porn actor during the 2016 presidential campaign. Smith’s office has also charged him with 40 felony counts in Florida, accusing him of illegally retaining classified documents at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, and refusing government demands to give them back. He has pleaded not guilty in both those cases, which are set for trial next year.
And prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia are expected in coming weeks to announce charging decisions in an investigation into efforts to subvert election results in that state.
Trump’s lawyer, John Lauro, has asserted in television interviews that Trump’s actions were protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and that he relied on the advice of lawyers. Trump himself has claimed without evidence that Smith’s team is trying to interfere with the 2024 presidential election, in which Trump is the dominant front-runner to claim the Republican nomination.
Smith said in a rare public statement that he was seeking a speedy trial, though Lauro has said he intends to slow the case down so that the defense team can conduct its own investigation.
The arraignment will be handled before U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadyaha, who joined the bench last year. But going forward, the case will be presided over by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an appointee of President Barack Obama who has stood out as one of the toughest punishers of rioters.
She has also ruled against Trump before, refusing in November 2021 to block the release of documents to the U.S. House’s Jan. 6 committee by asserting executive privilege.
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