WASHINGTON — For the third time in four months, Donald Trump was dragged into a courtroom on Thursday and charged with felonies that could bring him years in prison, this time for his schemes to remain in power despite having lost the 2020 election that culminated in his violent January 6, 2021, coup attempt.
The former president, technically under arrest yet again while the judge set the conditions of his release, pleaded not guilty to four counts of conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstructing an official proceeding and unlawfully depriving voters of their civil rights.
As he has for each of the previous indictments against him, Trump remained defiant and claimed prosecutors were only charging him to hurt his campaign. “I AM NOW GOING TO WASHINGTON, D.C., TO BE ARRESTED FOR HAVING CHALLENGED A CORRUPT, RIGGED, & STOLEN ELECTION. IT IS A GREAT HONOR, BECAUSE I AM BEING ARRESTED FOR YOU. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!!!” he wrote on his social media platform early on Thursday afternoon.
The arraignment took place at the E Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse on Constitution Avenue, just eight blocks from the White House, where Trump is accused of having carried out crimes with at least six as-yet-unnamed co-conspirators, but whose identities likely include advisers such as lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman.
The courthouse is also just four blocks from the Capitol, where a mob of Trump’s followers, incited by a rally where he continued pushing his lies that the 2020 election had been “stolen” from him, assaulted police officers to enter the building in an attempt to stop the congressional ceremony to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s win.
The conspiracy to defraud and obstruction charges are based on Trump’s plan to get Republicans in seven states Biden won to submit fake slates of electors to the National Archives and the US Senate, with the goal of using these forged certifications to coerce then-Vice President Mike Pence into awarding Trump a second term. The civil rights charge is based on the argument that Trump disenfranchised millions of voters in those states by attempting to have their votes nullified.
The new indictment, unsealed on Tuesday, follows another federal indictment in June that charged Trump with illegally retaining secret documents at this Florida country club and then trying to hide them from authorities seeking their return. He was also indicted in New York City in April for falsifying business records to conceal a $130,000 hush-money payment to a porn star in the days leading up to the 2016 election.
A fourth indictment against Trump is possible in Georgia, where the Atlanta-area district attorney is presenting evidence to a grand jury that Trump attempted to coerce state officials into overturning his loss to Biden in that state.
Trump would, if convicted in the cases to date, face decades in prison. But if he succeeds in regaining the White House in next year’s election, he would have the authority to end the federal prosecutions against him entirely and would likely be able to persuade state courts to suspend criminal cases against him for the duration of his presidency.
Despite all the criminal cases against Trump, though, his Republican rivals, with few exceptions, have been unwilling to criticise him for his actions that led to the charges, choosing instead to attack the prosecutions as politically motivated. Possibly as a result of this, Trump dominates the GOP field in polling for the 2024 nomination, with massive leads in national surveys and double-digit leads in the early-voting states.