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Trump is arraigned and pleads not guilty to charges he conspired to overturn election

Former President Donald Trump arrives at a federal court in Washington, D.C., ahead of his arraignment on Aug. 3.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump arrives at a federal court in Washington, D.C., ahead of his arraignment on Aug. 3.

Updated August 3, 2023 at 4:39 PM ET

Former President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to four felony charges that he attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump entered his plea on Thursday before Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya at a Washington, D.C., federal courthouse not far from the U.S. Capitol, where the alleged conspiracy he's accused of orchestrating turned violent on Jan. 6, 2021.

Among those in the courtroom with Trump were his lawyers Todd Blanche and John Lauro. Special counsel Jack Smith was also there, as were the prosecutors working for him, Thomas Windom, Molly Gaston and Mary Dohrmann.

Windom said the Justice Department was not seeking the former president's detention. The conditions of release, Windom said, are that Trump must not violate federal, state or local law while on release and that he "shall not communicate about facts of the case with any individual known to be a witness, except with counsel or the presence of counsel."

Judge Upadhyaya said the most important condition of release is not committing any new crimes while on release, which could lead to him being detained and could add to the sentence he may eventually face. She told Trump that it is a crime to "influence a juror or try to threaten or bribe a witness or retaliate against anyone" connected to the case. Trump said he understands.

The magistrate judge has set the first hearing for Aug. 28 at 10 a.m. ET, and at that time U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who has been assigned the case, will set a trial date.

Among the other people in the courtroom was Evan Corcoran, an attorney for Trump who wound up testifying before the grand jury investigating willful retention of classified documents at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort after prosecutors successfully pierced the attorney-client privilege. Trump was charged with 40 counts in that case.

Trump's appearance comes two days after a federal grand jury indicted him on four counts related to conspiracy to defraud the United States, witness tampering, conspiracy against the rights of citizens, and obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding.

This artist sketch depicts Donald Trump, center, conferring with defense lawyer Todd Blanche, left, during the former president's appearance in court in Washington on Aug. 3, as Trump defense lawyer John Lauro faces U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya. Special counsel Jack Smith sits at far left.
Dana Verkouteren / AP
/
AP
This artist sketch depicts Donald Trump, center, conferring with defense lawyer Todd Blanche, left, during the former president's appearance in court in Washington on Aug. 3, as Trump defense lawyer John Lauro faces U.S. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya. Special counsel Jack Smith sits at far left.

Trump, the front-runner in the Republican presidential field, has called the charges election interference.

"This was never supposed to happen in America. This is the persecution of the person that's leading by very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Biden by a lot. So if you can't beat him, you persecute him or you prosecute him. We can't let this happen in America," Trump said in brief remarks at the airport before departing after the hearing.

Trump remains the clear front-runner in the Republican presidential primary; however, very early polls generally show Trump and Biden close.

The case gets to the heart of the alleged effort to overturn the 2020 election

The Department of Justice's investigation into the events of Jan. 6, 2021, is among the most sprawling and complex in U.S. history — it gets at the heart of the alleged effort to overturn legitimate election results and obstruct the peaceful transfer of power.

The indictment on Tuesday is the latest in a series of legal troubles that are likely to loom over next year's presidential election. Trump also faces separate federal charges over allegedly obstructing an investigation into classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.

In addition to these federal charges, Trump is fighting criminal charges over the accounting for hush money payments in Manhattan; a defamation lawsuit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll; and a grand jury investigation in Georgia over his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state.

Trump's refusal to acknowledge the results began on election night, when he took to the stage at his campaign headquarters and claimed that he was the rightful winner and that the election was being stolen through fraud.

It was a false allegation that he would push repeatedly and continues to push.

In the weeks following the election, Trump's campaign pursued dozens of lawsuits in states where Trump lost. Courts repeatedly rejected the Trump team's election fraud claims.

Yet Trump refused to acknowledge what even his own top advisers were telling him at the time: There was no evidence of widespread fraud that would change the election's outcome.

Instead, he continued to push his false claims of fraud and raise money off them. According to the House Jan. 6 Committee, Trump raised nearly $250 million between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021.

As 2020 came to a close, Trump began to turn up the pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence, seeking his help to remain in office.

Lawmakers in Congress were set to meet on Jan. 6 to certify the Electoral College count and Joe Biden's victory.

Trump, leaning on legal theories proposed by outside attorney John Eastman, wanted Pence to refuse to count certain Electoral College votes — a theory that Pence rejected as unconstitutional.

Eastman is currently fighting to retain his law license. The State Bar of California opened a case against him in June and has argued that Eastman knowingly and willfully pushed false allegations of voter fraud during the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, Trump advisers were pursuing a fake-elector scheme, pushing Republican officials in states like Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia to put forward an alternate slate of electors even though Biden had won those states.

Ultimately, Pence rebuffed Trump's pressure and refused on Jan. 6, 2021, to block the certification of Biden's election win.

But as Congress was meeting on Capitol Hill, Trump was hosting a rally down by the White House. In a long, rambling speech, he repeated his claims of election fraud and told the crowd to "fight like hell" and march to Congress.

Thousands of Trump supporters did just that. They marched from the Ellipse to the Capitol, where they fought through police lines, stormed the Capitol and sent lawmakers fleeing for safety.

Around 140 police officers were injured defending Congress that day, according to the Justice Department.

Law enforcement regained control of the Capitol hours later, allowing lawmakers to return and finish certifying Biden's victory.

The Justice Department immediately launched a nationwide investigation — one of the largest in the department's history — to track down those who broke into the Capitol and hold them accountable. So far, more than 1,100 people have been arrested in connection with the attack.

For the latest developments on Donald Trump's court appearance, follow our digital live coverage.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.

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