The Fulton County Jail in Georgia made history on Thursday. In this prison, where conditions for prisoners are so dangerous that it is under official investigation, former president of the United States Donald Trump was booked on charges of — among other things — leading a mafia-style association to alter the results of the 2020 elections in that state. It is the first time a mugshot has been taken of a sitting or retired U.S. president.
The police record describes the former president as a white, blond male, weighing 215 pounds (97.5 kilos) and a height of 6′ 3″ (192 centimeters) with blue eyes. And it details the charges, from violation of the state law against organized crime to pressuring public officials to violate their duties and conspiracy to falsify documents.
Like the media animal he is, Trump had perfectly timed his appearance to be fingerprinted and photographed. The Fulton County prosecutor, Fani Willis, had given him ten days to do it, but he chose this Thursday, the day after the rest of the Republican presidential candidates grabbed the spotlight with their first televised debate before the primaries. And the time slot in which he arrived at the prison, around 7.30 p.m., is prime television time. The expectation of seeing him enter the prison and his images descending from the private plane that brought him from his golf club in Bedminster (New Jersey) almost completely displaced his rivals in the media attention, to the point that less than 24 hours after the debate they were barely mentioned, and the conversation solely focused on him again.
On the way to the jail, Trump received presidential treatment: as in his previous appearances as a defendant in three separate cases, he was greeted by a motorcade of Secret Service vehicles as he descended the plane and was escorted to Fulton County. In prison, he was just another suspect, though. He had to go through all the routine procedures to be booked and post the $200,000 bail agreed between his lawyers and the prosecution to be released pending trial. His bail conditions also include strict limits to prevent possible threats to witnesses or those involved in the case.
Trump used the hours before his arrest to announce the timing of his charges and to lash out, as he usually does, at Willis, whom he accused of being a “radical leftist.”
Prior to the former president’s arrival at the Fulton County jail, District Attorney Willis, who brought this indictment against Trump, proposed that the trial against him and the other 18 defendants begin on October 23. The attorney had already made clear that she wanted a speedy trial. Trump very much does not want one; rather, his strategy is based on delaying all the open cases he is facing as much as possible, waiting for the elections next year that could bring him back to power and allow him to acquit himself in his federal cases. However, another defendant, attorney Kenneth Chesebro, has officially asked for a swift resolution.
For the Republican, court appearances have become almost routine. The one filed by Willis, which accuses him of 13 counts, including conspiracy to commit a crime, pressure on witnesses and conspiracy to falsify documents, among others, is already his fourth indictment. But this was the first time he had to appear in prison: the three previous times he went to court to plead not guilty before a judge who read the charges against him. The county sheriff, Pat Labat, made it clear that the former president would not receive any favorable treatment and would have to go through the same procedures as any other suspect.
In a twist that would have been surprising in any other case, but very Trump-like, the former president replaced the lawyer who had led his defense in this case, Drew Findling, just hours before his arrest. His replacement is Steven Sadow, an Atlanta lawyer who filed the paperwork to represent the former president early Thursday. His firm’s website describes him as a specialist in “White Collar and High Profile Defense.”
“The president should never have been indicted. He is innocent of all the charges brought against him,” Sadow said in a statement. “We look forward to the case being dismissed or, if necessary, an unbiased, open-minded jury finding the president not guilty. Prosecutions intended to advance or serve the ambitions and careers of political opponents of the president have no place in our justice system.”
The defense lawyer’s arguments are in line with the ones Trump has resorted to throughout his already lengthy record of indictments. In his four pending cases, the former president faces a total of 91 charges that could land him more than a century in prison, but he portrays himself as an innocent victim of a politicized judicial system, at the service of Democratic powers that are bent on preventing him from returning to the White House and defending ordinary Americans.
It is a narrative that has struck a chord with the Republican base: before Wednesday’s debate, the polling average gave him a 52.2% voting intention among Republican voters, while his closest challenger, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, trailed at 14.5%.
On the eve of his appearance in Fulton, Trump repeated his arguments in an interview given to conservative commentator Tucker Carlson and posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, as the rest of the Republican presidential candidates held their debate.
Following his jail appearance, the former president must return to Atlanta in September to be read the thirteen charges he faces and plead guilty or not guilty. In the three previous cases, he has always pleaded not guilty.
Trump’s legal troubles began in March, when Manhattan U.S. Attorney Alvin Bragg charged him with accounting falsification over his payment to porn actress Stormy Williams at the start of the 2016 election campaign to keep quiet about their alleged sexual relationship. In June, special counsel Jack Smith brought charges against him for unlawfully retaining classified documents in his possession at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida after leaving the White House. Earlier this month, Smith again charged him, this time with attempted election fraud in the 2020 election, when Democrat Joe Biden defeated him by seven million votes in his bid to retain the presidency for four more years.
In Georgia, the gap was only a few thousand votes: precisely, 11,779 more for the Democrat. The narrow margin of defeat in that state, traditionally Republican, especially outraged Trump, who still insists to this day that he was the legitimate winner of the elections three years ago.
The indictment includes a conversation, published at the time by The Washington Post, between the then-president and the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump asks the official, also a Republican, on January 2, 2021, to “find” him 11,780 votes, the number needed to defeat Biden. It also accuses the former president of participating in a plot to make false voters vote in his favor in the confirmation of the results in the U.S. Congress.
Eighteen other people are also charged in the case. Nine of them have already appeared at the Fulton County Jail for fingerprinting, mug shots and bail. Among those who have already been there is Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney and former mayor of New York, one of the most vocal advocates that the Republican was the legitimate winner in Georgia. Another defendant, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, has asked that his case be moved to a federal circuit. Meadows also appeared Thursday at the Fulton jail to be booked.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition