Trump pleads not guilty to election charges in latest arraignment

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Trump pleads not guilty to election charges in latest arraignment

Former US President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty in a Washington DC court to conspiring to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

During a short arraignment, he spoke softly to confirm his not-guilty plea, name, age and that he was not under the influence of any substances.

He later told reporters the case was “persecution of a political opponent”.

It marks the former president’s third appearance in four months as a criminal defendant.

Mr Trump entered through a backdoor of the courthouse on Thursday afternoon in the centre of the nation’s capital, just yards from the scene of the US Capitol riot that is central to the prosecution’s case.

About 1,000 defendants charged with participating in the storming of Congress on 6 January 2021 have appeared in the same court building.

The former president seemed to exchange glances across the court with Jack Smith, the special counsel leading the investigation.

Mr Trump was seen twiddling his thumbs as he sat waiting for the hearing to begin, and he shook his head as the clerk read out the case number.

The former president had taken a short flight on his private plane from his New Jersey residence to attend the hearing.

His not-guilty plea covered the four charges in this latest indictment:

conspiracy to defraud the US
conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding
obstruction of an official proceeding
conspiracy against the rights of citizens
Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya told the former president not to communicate about the facts of the case.

She warned him that failure to comply could result in an arrest warrant, revoked release conditions and contempt of court charges.

Prosecutors told the hearing the case would benefit from a speedy trial.

But Trump defence attorney John Lauro said they would need more time to prepare. He said the prosecution’s timeline was “somewhat absurd” given that the investigation itself had taken three years.

The allegations laid out on Tuesday in an indictment, or charge sheet, include a count of “conspiracy to impair, obstruct, and defeat the federal government function through dishonesty, fraud and deceit”.

Mr Trump lost the 2020 election to his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, but he refused to concede and mounted weeks of challenges across several US states.

He is currently the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican White House nomination and may face a rematch with Mr Biden.

Speaking to reporters before flying home to New Jersey, Mr Trump said his arraignment was a “very sad day for America”.

He told reporters he was sad to see “the filth and the decay and all of the broken buildings and walls and the graffiti” in Washington DC.

Outside court, one of his lawyers previewed a possible defence strategy.

Alina Habba argued that the former president had been given bad guidance by his team in the aftermath of the election.

“I think that everybody was made aware that he lost the election, but that doesn’t mean that that was the only advice he was given,” said Ms Habba.

She added: “He may not agree with Mike Pence. He may not agree with one of his lawyers.

“But that doesn’t mean there weren’t other people advising him exactly the opposite. And the president has a right, as every one of us do, to listen to several opinions and make a decision.”

The indictment lists six unnamed co-conspirators who allegedly helped Mr Trump plot to quash his election loss.