Donald Trump is expected to appear in court on Thursday to answer charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, a case that will cast a dark and volatile cloud over the 2024 White House race for which he remains the presumptive Republican nominee.
The arrest and arraignment of the former president will take place in a federal courthouse within sight of the US Capitol that was stormed by his supporters on January 6, 2021, in what prosecutors say was the culmination of the alleged plot.
The 77-year-old Trump is expected to enter a plea of not guilty at a hearing set to begin at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT) before magistrate judge Moxila Upadhyaya.
The accusations that Trump and six unnamed co-conspirators plotted to upend the 2020 election is the former president’s third criminal indictment since March, and the most serious of the cases threatening to derail his 2024 White House bid.
Special counsel Jack Smith unveiled a 45-page indictment of Trump on Tuesday charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States and attempting to disenfranchise American voters with his false claims that he won the November 2020 election.
“The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud,” the indictment said.
Smith, a former war crimes prosecutor at the Hague, linked Trump’s actions following his loss to Democrat Joe Biden directly to the attack on the Capitol, which he called an “unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy.”
“It was fueled by lies,” Smith said. “Lies by the defendant targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the US government — the nation’s process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.”
Trump is already scheduled to go on trial in Florida in May of next year on charges that he took top secret government documents to his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida and refused to return them.
The twice-impeached former president also faces criminal charges in New York for allegedly paying election-eve hush money to a porn star.
Trump, who spent Wednesday playing golf at his Bedminster, New Jersey club, has pleaded not guilty in the documents and hush money cases and accused prosecutors of seeking to thwart his presidential bid with “fake” indictments.
“This unprecedented indictment of a former (highly successful!) president, & the leading candidate, by far, in both the Republican Party and the 2024 general election, has awoken the world to the corruption, scandal & failure that has taken place in the United States for the past three years,” he said in a post on his Truth Social platform on Wednesday.
‘Should never be president’
The new conspiracy charges raise the prospect of Trump being further embroiled in legal proceedings at the height of what is expected to be a bitter presidential campaign.
The plot allegedly included attempts to pressure Mike Pence into throwing out Electoral College votes at the January 6 joint session of Congress called to certify Biden’s win, which the vice president eventually refused to do.
“I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence, who is also seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said Wednesday.
“Anyone who asks someone else to put themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again,” he told reporters in Indianapolis.
Although Trump’s arraignment will be before a magistrate judge, the actual case is to be heard by US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, an appointee of former Democratic president Barack Obama, who has handed down some of the stiffest sentences in cases involving Capitol riot participants.
Chutkan, 61, also has a legal history with Trump — she ruled against him in a November 2021 case.
Trump had filed a lawsuit asserting executive privilege to block documents from being handed over to a congressional committee investigating the attack on the Capitol by his supporters.
He was no longer in the White House at the time, and Chutkan dismissed the suit, saying the former president’s argument “appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity.'”
“But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” Chutkan wrote.
As president, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for seeking political dirt on Biden from Ukraine and over the events of January 6 — but he was acquitted by the Senate both times.