Former US president Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to trying to overturn the results of his 2020 presidential election loss, answering for the first time to federal charges that accuse him of orchestrating a brazen and ultimately failed attempt to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power.
Trump appeared before a magistrate judge in Washington’s federal courthouse two days after being indicted on four felony counts by Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.
The charges accuse him of trying to subvert the will of voters and undo his election loss in the days before January 6, 2021, when supporters stormed the US Capitol in a violent clash with law enforcement.
Trump, the 2024 Republican presidential primary front runner, is facing charges including conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruct Congress’ certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.
'Persecution of political opponent'
His appearance on Thursday, and the rest of the court case, will unfold in courthouse blocks in clear view of the Capitol and in a building where more than 1,000 of the Capitol rioters have been charged.
Trump has said he is innocent, and his legal team has characterised the latest case as an attack on his right to free speech.
Donald Trump said after his arraignment on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election that it was a "very sad day for America."
"This is a persecution of a political opponent. This was never supposed to happen in America," Trump said before boarding his plane to return to New Jersey after the court hearing.
Third criminal case against Trump
The indictment from Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith charges Trump with four felony counts related to his efforts to undo his presidential election loss, including conspiracy to defraud the US government and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. The charges could lead to a years-long prison sentence in the event of a conviction.
The former president was the only person charged in the case, though prosecutors referenced six unnamed co-conspirators, mostly lawyers, they say he plotted with, including in a scheme to enlist fake electors in seven battleground states won by Biden to submit false certificates to the federal government.
The indictment chronicles how Trump and his Republican allies, in what Smith described as an attack on a “bedrock function of the US government,” repeatedly lied about the results in the two months after he lost the election and pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, and state election officials to take action to help him cling to power.
This is the third criminal case brought against Trump in less than six months.
He was charged in New York with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment to an adult industry actor during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Smith’s office also has charged him with 40 felony counts in Florida, accusing him of illegally retaining classified documents at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, and refusing government demands to give them back. He has pleaded not guilty in both those cases, which are set for trial next year.
And prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, are expected in the coming weeks to announce charging decisions in an investigation into efforts to subvert election results in that state.
Trump’s lawyer John Lauro has asserted in television interviews that Trump’s actions were protected by the First Amendment right to free speech and that he relied on the advice of lawyers.
Trump has claimed without evidence that Smith’s team is trying to interfere with the 2024 presidential election.