TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday to trying to overturn the results of his 2020 election loss, answering for the first time to federal charges that accuse him of orchestrating a brazen and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
The former president appeared before a magistrate judge in Washington’s federal courthouse two days after being indicted by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith. Of the three criminal cases he’s facing, the most recent charges are especially historic since they focus on Trump’s efforts as president to subvert the will of voters and obstruct the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. His refusal to accept defeat and his lies about widespread election fraud helped fuel the violent riot on January 6, 2021, when a mob of supporters stormed the US Capitol.
Trump, who is now the early front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, sat stern-faced with his hands folded, shaking his head at times as he conferred with an attorney and occasionally glancing around the courtroom as his court appearance began. He stood up to enter his “not guilty” plea, answered perfunctory questions from the judge and thanked her at the conclusion of the arraignment.
His appearance Thursday unfolded — as will the rest of the case — in a downtown courthouse between the Capitol and the White House and in a building where more than 1,000 of the Capitol rioters have been charged by the Justice Department, which last November appointed Smith to lead a probe into the role of Trump and his allies in the events of that day, the AP reported.
The indictment charges Trump with four felony counts related to his efforts to undo his presidential election loss, including conspiracy to defraud the US government and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The charges could lead to a lengthy prison sentence in the event of a conviction, with the most serious counts calling for up to 20 years.
Smith himself attended the arraignment, sitting in the courtroom’s front row behind the prosecutors handling the case and about 20 feet away from Trump. He looked at times in Trump’s direction, though neither appeared to gesture at or talk to each other.
Trump has said he is innocent. His legal team has characterized the latest case as an attack on his right to free speech and his right to challenge an election that he believed had been stolen.
“This is the persecution of the person that’s leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Biden by a lot,” he said. “So if you can’t beat ‘em, you persecute ‘em or you prosecute ’em. We can’t let this happen in America.”
The election theft case is part of escalating legal troubles for the ex-president, coming nearly two months after Trump pleaded not guilty to dozens of federal felony counts accusing him of hoarding classified documents at his Florida estate and thwarting government efforts to retrieve them. That case is set for trial next May.