WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges he allegedly engaged in a sweeping “criminal scheme” to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Trump was arraigned on an indictment that charges him with conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the case against Trump, was seated in the front row for the hearing. At one point, both he and Trump looked at each other with Smith not breaking the gaze.
When asked for a plea, Trump himself said “not guilty” to all counts.
The hearing marked a historic moment in American history as a former president and the current Republican presidential frontrunner stood in a courtroom accused of attempting to overturn an election.
“Despite having lost, the Defendant was determined to remain in power,” the indictment reads. “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.”
Trump is the first former president to ever face criminal charges.
Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya gave a return date of August 28 for another hearing, at which Trump is likely not to appear.
“This is a persecution of a political opponent,” Trump said at the airport after the hearing. “This was never supposed to happen in America.”
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan will preside over the case and is expected to set a trial date at that hearing.
Upadhyaya ordered Smith’s office on Thursday to file a submission in seven days estimating their schedule for when a trial should be set.
Alina Habba, a legal spokesperson for Trump’s Save America PAC, spoke to reporters outside the courthouse and claimed the former president did nothing wrong, saying Trump “used the law in an appropriate manner”.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and maintains Smith is engaging in “election interference” while he is running for president for the third time.
The charges are the third for Trump, who is facing 78 felony counts in the three cases.