UPDATE - Trump makes initial court appearance on federal election charges

UPDATE - Trump makes initial court appearance on federal election charges

Arraignment comes 2 days after former president indicted by federal grand jury in Washington


By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) - Former US President Donald Trump appeared in federal court Thursday to be arraigned on four criminal charges related to his alleged efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss.

Trump was processed by law enforcement and arraigned by Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. He pleaded not guilty to the charges as expected and was released pending trial on minimal conditions, according to multiple reports.

Upadhyaya reportedly gave prosecutors one week to file a brief in the case explaining when they would like the trial to take place. Trump's team was ordered to offer their own timeline a week later.

Special Counsel Jack Smith has said his office will seek to ensure the trial is speedy, but Trump's attorneys have indicated that they will propose a more drawn-out timeline. The next hearing will take place on Aug. 28, at which point the judge will set a trial date.

Security had been heightened around the courthouse and nearby on Capitol Hill, where hundreds of Trump's supporters rioted on Jan. 6, 2021, occupying the federal legislature for the first time since the War of 1812.

The former president was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in the Justice Department's long-running investigation into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

He has maintained his innocence, and his lawyers are expected to argue that his comments were protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution and that he legitimately believed his claims of election fraud.

Tuesday's indictment marks the third criminal case against Trump since he left office following another federal case in the state of Florida related to his alleged unlawful retention of classified government documents and efforts to stymy investigators, and a case in New York related to hush money payments to an adult film star.

But the latest indictment marks the most significant case against the ex-president to date. Jack Smith, the special counsel, had been leading a longstanding investigation into Trump and his political allies and efforts to prevent President Joe Biden from assuming power after he won the November 2020 polls by 7 million votes.

The indictment repeatedly said that Trump "knowingly" sought to mislead the American public to ensure that the peaceful transfer of power to Biden would not occur and "pursued unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting the election."

"Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power. So for more than two months following election day on November 3, 2020, the Defendant spread lies that there had been outcome-determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won," it said.

"These claims were false and the Defendant knew that they were false. But the Defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway--to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and erode public faith in the administration of the election," it added.

The 45-page indictment charges Trump with conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding and conspiracy against rights. Six others are listed as co-conspirators but are not named.

The conspiracy to defraud the US charge is related to Trump and his allies' alleged efforts to convince state elections officials to subvert election results in seven states -- Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

That included the use of fake electors to submit false election results suggesting Trump won state polls, and the use of the Justice Department "to conduct sham election crime investigations and to send a letter to the targeted states that falsely claimed that the Justice Department had identified significant concerns that may have impacted the election outcome."

Other efforts included attempting to convince then-Vice President Mike Pence not to carry out his constitutionally-mandated role of certifying election results and exploitation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, said the indictment.

The second and third charges -- conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding -- are related to efforts to prevent the certification of Electoral College votes.

The conspiracy against rights charge is tied to Trump and his co-conspirators' alleged efforts "to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate one or more persons in the free exercise and enjoyment of a right and privilege secured to them by the Constitution and laws of the United States -- that is, the right to vote, and to have one's vote counted."

Alina Habba, a member of the ex-president's legal team, said the case is part of what she called "political lawfare."

"This is election interference at its finest against the leading candidate right now for president for either party. President Trump is under siege in a way that we have never seen before," she told reporters outside the courthouse.

Habba acknowledged that Trump's defense is likely to seek a longer timeline for the trial than that sought by Smith's office, saying it will take time to sort through the materials presented by prosecutors.

"We've got to go show them all the facts, and there's a lot of facts to show. So everybody has their time, and to say that Donald Trump should be rushed and not be given the same fair proceeding that anybody else is just frankly un-American. It's not fair. It's not the way our system works," she said.

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