Former US President Donald Trump pleads not guilty over alleged attempts to 'subvert' 2020 presidential election results

From Wikinews, the free news source you can write!
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Trump at last month's Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Last Thursday, former US President Donald Trump entered a not guilty plea in the US District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C.) to four felony charges over the alleged "[pursuit] of unlawful means of discounting legitimate votes and subverting" the outcome of the 2020 US presidential election, which saw now-President Joe Biden defeat him and Trump supporters attack the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya said Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is assigned to preside over the case, planned to schedule a trial at an August 28 hearing; both prosecutors and Trump's attorneys were instructed to present a favored trial timeline by that date, but Upadhyaya described Chutkan as open to allowing Trump to not attend that hearing.

Thomas Windom, the head prosecutor assigned to the trial, argued: "This case will benefit from normal order, including a speedy trial."

Defense lawyer John Lauro said his side would need to analyze evidence the government must provide it through discovery and the idea a trial could soon begin was "somewhat absurd": "These are weighty issues. Obviously, the US has had three and a half years to investigate this matter".

He added: "And all I'm going to ask, Your Honor, is the opportunity to fairly defend our client. But in order to do that, we're going to need a little time."

Upadhyaya said: "I can guarantee everybody that there will be a fair process and a fair trial in this case."

Upadhyaya warned the defendant of the conditions of his freedom, one of which being he and witnesses could not discuss the case without lawyers present: "If you fail to comply with any conditions of your release, a warrant may be issued for your arrest."

Three law enforcement personnel who resisted the Capitol attack arrived to witness the 27-minute arraignment, including Capitol Police officer Aquilino Gonell. The clashes injured Gonell, who retired; he noted to the Associated Press this was "the same court in which hundreds of rioters have been sentenced. It's the same court former President Trump is being arraigned in today for his alleged involvement before, during, and after the siege."

Other attendees included the court's chief judge, James Boasberg, who presided over the grand jury's secret proceedings. Also attending were Judge Randy Moss and Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who has criticized Trump when sentencing participants in the attack.

Providing counsel for the defense were Lauro and Todd Blanche, also working for Trump in other court cases, while Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran attended in the audience. The lawyers have claimed Special Counsel Jack Smith infringed on Trump's freedom of speech by criminally charging him.

Trump, standing in the rain at Reagan National Airport ahead of his flight returning him to New Jersey, declared it a "very sad day for America". He said: "This is the persecution of the person that's leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican [Party] primary and leading Biden by a lot [...] So if you can't beat 'em, you persecute 'em or you prosecute 'em. We can't let this happen in America." He has maintained his innocence.

Asked at a campaign stop press conference in Iowa on Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican contender in the 2024 election, if he believed the 2024 presidential election to be "stolen", he said: "I've said many times the election is what it is [...] All those theories that were put out did not prove to be true. But what I've also said is the way you conduct a good election that people have confidence in, you don't change the rules in the middle of the game."

Prosecutors asked Chutkan to issue a protective order under which Trump could not release sensitive evidence from discovery, after he wrote on his social media website Truth Social earlier in the day: "IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I'M COMING AFTER YOU!" They said that could be interpreted as meaning he could attempt to chill witnesses.

Trump's lawyers submitted a response Monday, conceding some documents should remain private, but "the need to protect that information does not require a blanket gag order over all documents produced by the government." Basing their argument upon the US Constitution's provision safeguarding free speech, they continued: "In a trial about First Amendment rights, the government seeks to restrict First Amendment rights."

The government responded, noting the other side's counsels had been spoken about the case on broadcast media. Chutkan later scheduled a hearing on the matter for Friday.

On Sunday, Trump declared on Truth Social: "There is no way I can get a fair trial with the judge 'assigned' to the ridiculous freedom of speech/fair elections case [...] Everybody knows this and so does she! We will be immediately asking for recusal of this judge on very powerful grounds and likewise for venue change, out [of] D.C." He had claimed West Virginia was "politically unbiased" in contrast to D.C.

A federal grand jury on August 1 indicted Trump, accusing him of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. It charged he committed such to undermine the US Congress' evaluation and certification of the validity of the results.

This indictment followed one in New York City, on state-level charges of falsification of business records to conceal hush money payments, the first indictment of a US president, and another federal indictment in Miami, Florida, over alleged purposeful retention of classified documents.

The indictment.
Image: United States Department of Justice.

Fulton County, Georgia has been investigating Trump and supporters for alleged attempts to influence the 2020 election results there.

Unlike an impeachment, a conviction unrelated to insurrection would not have legal effects on Trump's campaign.

The indictment said Trump exhausted his legal avenues to affect the election results, including seeking relief from courts and requesting authorities perform recounts and audits of votes, yet participated in a conspiracy to perpetuate the claim he won the election. He called the election "crooked" before flying to D.C. for the arraignment on social media.

Aware his statements were false as Vice President Mike Pence and other advisors and appointees informed him, the indictment charged, "the defendant repeated and widely disseminated them anyway — to make his knowingly false claims appear legitimate, to create an intense national atmosphere of mistrust and anger, and to erode public faith in the administration of the election."

The indictment described Trump trying to persuade state administrators to alter election results, unsuccessfully attempting to convince Pence he could prevent Congress from counting the votes of electors, who states appointed consistent with the local popular vote, and, with unnamed and unindicted accomplices, assembling groups of "fraudulent electors" to vote for him and send their votes for Congress to count.

Trump and accomplices, the grand jury continued, disseminated these statements in a rally on January 6, after which some attendees and others stormed the Capitol, clashing with resisting law enforcement. Congress reconvened within hours, and Pence presided over the certification of the results.

Prosecutor Jack Smith on August 1 called it "an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy [...] It was fueled by lies, lies by the defendant".

A bipartisan US House of Representatives select committee reported on the prelude to the Capitol attack after a months-long investigation, determining authorities should charge Trump with aiding an insurrection, obstructing an official proceeding, and other crimes. In 2021, Chutkan ordered Trump's presidential records be available to the committee, against his wishes; the grand jury mentioned those records in August 1's indictment. Hours before the arraignment hearing, he denounced Chutkan as "unfair" on social media.