Former US President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty at a Washington DC court of conspiring to obstruct and overturn the 2020 election result.
During his third appearance as a criminal defendant in four months, Mr Trump was seen in the courtroom twiddling his thumbs before the hearing began and spoke softly when confirming his name and age to Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya, when proceedings began.
Mr Trump will appear before a completely different judge, Tanya Chutkan, when the criminal trial eventually gets under way, probably sometime next year.
In this latest indictment, Mr Trump faces four counts, including conspiracy to defraud the US, tampering with a witness and conspiracy against the rights of citizens. These come on top of separate charges he faces in two other cases, which are mishandling classified files and falsifying business records to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star.
These fresh charges come at the conclusion of an investigation into events surrounding the 6 January 2021 riot at the US Capitol, where his supporters stormed Congress as lawmakers certified the Democrat’s victory.
The man leading the inquiry, is special counsel Jack Smith who has not directly charged the 77-year-old with inciting the mob that day, but instead chose to claim that the shocking violence that occurred had been “fuelled” by his lies.
The actual court document accuses Mr Trump of a “conspiracy to impair, obstruct, and defeat the federal government function through dishonesty, fraud and deceit.”
Donald Trump is currently the clear front-runner in the Republican Party’s contest to pick its next presidential candidate.
Motorcade arrival at court
Mr Trump is accused by federal prosecutors of lying repeatedly about mass voter fraud and pressing officials to change results to keep him in power.
He travelled to the Elijah Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, in a large motorcade alongside Secret Service agents and media, after arriving in Washington on his private plane, known as Trump Force One.
The building is just yards from the US Capitol, the scene of the riot on 6 January 2021 which features prominently in the indictment.
Blame for violence placed on Mr Trump by special counsel
The former president’s case will be heard by grand jury and follows an investigation by special counsel Jack Smith, which looked into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
In a brief statement, Mr Smith placed the blame for the violence squarely on Mr Trump’s shoulders, saying his team tried to plot a way to steal the election by repeatedly telling pervasive and destabalising lies and in doing so fuelled the ensuing riot.
The actual charges are: 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.
Persecution likeness voiced
The Trump campaign said he had always followed the law and characterized the indictment as a “persecution reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, the former Soviet Union, and other authoritarian, dictatorial regimes.”
It went on to add: “These un-American witch hunts will fail.”
In Mr Smith’s 45-page indictment six unnamed co-conspirators are listed, who allegedly helped him carry out his unlawful efforts to overturn the election results. Four are said to be lawyers working for Mr Trump’s campaign, one is described as a political consultant and the other a Justice Department official.
The prosecution claims that along with Mr Trump, they pushed officials in states where the races had been close, to ignore the popular vote, to disenfranchise millions of voters and replace legitimate electors with fake ones.
It also accused them of attempting to use the power of the justice department to conduct sham investigations into supposed fraud and of pressuring then Vice-President Mike Pence to fraudulently alter the election outcome as part of his ceremonial role to certify results in Congress.
Indictment pages indicate individuals without naming
Although the six co-conspirators were not names in the charging documents due to the fact that they have not yet been charged with any crimes, based on details within the indictment, five of the six co-conspirators appear to be the following:
Co-conspirator 1: Former New York City Mayor and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Co-conspirator 2: Former Trump lawyer John Eastman; Co-conspirator 3: Former Trump “Kraken” lawyer Sidney Powell; Co-conspirator 4: Former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark; and Co-conspirator 5: Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro. Co-conspirator 6 is at this stage still unclear.
“Nauseating” and “Despicable”
Former US attorney general Bill Barr, who was appointed to the top job in the US legal system by the former president, has spoken out against Mr Trump. He said the defence argument is not valid and called the actions “nauseating” and “despicable”.
He emphasised the point that nobody was attacking his First Amendment right, as he can say whatever he wants, “he can even lie”, Mr Barr said, before adding: “He can tell people that the election was stolen, even when he knew better, but none of that protects him from entering into a conspiracy.”
Who is the judge who will be in charge?
When the case finally finds its way into court, Mr Trump will be up against a real hard-line judge in Tanya Chutkan. Over the past couple of years, the 61-year-old has won a reputation for harsh sentences for those convicted of participating in the riots.
She is Jamaican born, but moved to the US to attend George Washington University before moving on to law school at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked as a public defender in Washington DC, before in 2014 President Barack Obama nominated her to the US District Court for the District of Columbia. She was confirmed by the Senate in a resounding 95-0 vote.
Judge Chutkan has on several occasions handed out longer prison sentences to rioters than had initially been recommended to her. Indeed, of the 31 defendants who have come before her, she has sentenced every one of them to jail time, something no doubt Mr Trump will be made aware of.
He will also be told, if he didn’t already know, that at one sentencing hearing last year, she said: “It is not patriotism, it is not standing up for America to stand up for one man – who knows full well that he lost – instead of the Constitution he was trying to subvert.”
It is a case that will have the nation and probably most of the world, completely gripped.