Trump is due to face a judge in DC over charges he tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump headed to Washington on Thursday to answer to charges that he worked to overturn the 2020 presidential election, with the former president set to appear in a federal courthouse mere blocks from the U.S. Capitol building that his supporters stormed to try to block the peaceful transfer of power.
Trump departed from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club after 1 p.m. to be flown by private plane to Washington. In what’s become a familiar but nonetheless stunning ritual, he will be processed by law enforcement and enter a not guilty plea in front of a judge. He’s expected to then be released as the case proceeds, enabling him to 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 his presidential election loss 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.
Law enforcement officials ramped up security outside the courthouse, including by setting up barricades.
The Republican former president was the only person charged in the case, though prosecutors referenced six unnamed co-conspirators, mostly lawyers, they say he plotted with, including in a scheme to enlist fake electors in seven battleground states won by Democrat Joe Biden to submit false certificates to the federal government.
The indictment chronicles how Trump and his Republican 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 after 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 less than six months.
He was charged in New York with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to a porn actor during the 2016 presidential campaign. Smith’s office also has 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 has claimed without evidence that Smith’s team is trying to interfere with the 2024 presidential election, in which Trump is the early front-runner to claim the Republican nomination.
Smith said in a rare public statement this week 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 the Capitol rioters.
Chutkan 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.
AP writers Lindsay Whitehurst, Ellen Knickmeyer, Ashraf Khalil, Rebecca Santana, Stephen Groves, Serkan Gurbuz, Rick Gentilo, Alex Brandon, Yihan Deng, Kara Brown, Nathan Posner and Alanna Durkin Richer contributed to this report.