Everything You Need to Know About Donald Trump’s Arraignment in the Special Counsel’s Election Subversion Case

Former US President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday in a federal courthouse in Washington, DC, to federal criminal charges coming from his schemes to disrupt the 2020 election, in a 27-minute session in which the defense's strategies became clear.

Photo credit: Mario Tama/ Getty Images

It was Trump's third criminal arraignment this year, and the hearing marked the public debut of the team of lawyers from special counsel Jack Smith's office who will lead the prosecution.

The following are some key takeaways from the hearing:

Conflicts about the case scheduling are arising:

The Trump team has attempted to stall the proceedings in the classified materials case, which Smith also filed against the former president in June. The first hearing in the election subversion case hinted at a similar plan.

The majority of Thursday's session was stodgy and scripted. However, the tone changed when the judge stated that the prosecution must present suggestions for the trial date and length within seven days, and that the Trump team must respond within seven days.

Before they could answer that question, Trump attorney John Lauro told the judge that they needed to look at the quantity of evidence they'd be receiving from the government, which he described as "massive."

Prosecutor Thomas Windom hinted that the special counsel will request that the case proceed according to the Speedy Trial Act, which establishes a time restriction for criminal cases to go to trial unless certain exemptions are secured.

A magistrate judge indicated Thursday that Judge Tanya Chutkan expects to set a trial date at an August 28 hearing. Chutkan may need to preside over disagreements before the trial over whether the case should be dismissed owing to legal faults, when the trial should begin, and what evidence can be given to a jury.

Trump may argue that a trial should be postponed until after the 2024 election, an argument his legal team made unsuccessfully in the classified documents case, and his lawyers have hinted at efforts to change the venue of the case, claiming that the DC jury pool is politically biassed against the former president and Republican front-runner in 2024.

Trump's court and campaign schedules are becoming increasingly busy:

More legal issues are expected to be added to the former president's to-do list.

In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is anticipated to file charges in her election subversion investigation in the coming weeks, and Trump might be indicted as a result.

subsequently there's Smith's complaint, in which he claims Trump mishandled sensitive information from his White House and subsequently obstructed the investigation into the materials. That case is presently slated for trial in May of next year, with routine pre-trial processes (at which Trump is not compelled to appear) taking place before that. There's also the criminal case brought by Manhattan prosecutors against Trump for a 2016 campaign hush money plot, which is set to go to trial in March.

In addition, he is facing a number of legal cases, including a second defamation case launched by E. Jean Carroll, as well as a civil fraud case brought by the New York attorney general against his family and businesses.

This judicial calendar is also superimposed on his 2024 campaign schedule. The first Republican presidential debate, for example, is scheduled for August 23.

Though Trump will not be forced to present in court for pre-trial hearings, he may do so if he pursues a strategy of making the election subversion case a spectacle. Following Thursday's hearing, Trump made brief statements on the airport runway that the prosecution was political, and he frequently fundraises off of every new development that puts him in deeper legal danger.

The public debut of key prosecutors:

The Smith team, which will handle the election subversion prosecution, made its public debut on Thursday. (Some of the special counsel lawyers in charge of the secret papers case were already involved in the public procedures coming from Trump's lawsuit last year contesting the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago).

Smith attended the court, as he did for Trump's first appearance in the confidential materials lawsuit earlier this year in Florida. As the courtroom waited for the hearing to begin, Smith and Trump exchanged glances, with Smith staring more towards Trump than Trump looking at him.

Windom, who was transferred from the US Attorney's Office in Maryland to play a key role in the federal election subversion investigation, spoke on the government's behalf on Thursday. Molly Gaston, an alum of the DC US attorney's public integrity department, which handles some of the Justice Department's most politically sensitive cases, was also at the prosecutors' table.

Gaston served as the primary prosecutor in last year's contempt of Congress case against former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, and he also worked on the prosecutions of Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign staffer, and Paul Manafort, Trump's 2016 campaign chairman. Gaston was also in the courtroom on Tuesday when the foreperson of the grand jury in charge of the 2020 election investigation returned the indictment against Trump.

A new Trump lawyer has emerged into the spotlight:

At Thursday's hearing, Trump was represented by Lauro and Todd Blanche. Lauro is a relatively new addition to Trump's legal staff, handling 2020 election-related problems.

Meanwhile, Blanche has come across other Trump cases. He is representing Trump in Smith's secret materials prosecution as well as the Manhattan district attorney's 2016 campaign hush money case.

Evan Corcoran, who has not formally entered an appearance in the case, attended the hearing, sitting on the row behind the defence table in the courtroom.

At Thursday's hearing, Lauro spoke for the defence. He's also been a strong public defender of the former president, appearing on CNN and other networks several times in recent days.

While the defence attorneys were primarily present Thursday to guide Trump through the processes of a first appearance and arraignment, Lauro got the opportunity to demonstrate the zeal with which he will argue on his client's behalf. He didn't get into the actual defence points that he has teased in TV shows, but he was categorical that the Trump team may require additional time before settling on a trial date.

Trump makes his first appearance at a courthouse with significant symbolic significance on January 6:

While Trump's Thursday hearing closely followed the script of his previous arraignments in the classified materials and the 2016 hush money criminal charges against him. But it was taking place in a courtroom that has had to repeatedly absorb and reprocess the violence of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol that his electoral lies contributed to.

For the previous two and a half years, the former president has been a stalking horse at the DC courthouse, which has hosted the proceedings for more than 1,000 Trump supporters accused with rioting.

Judges have tacitly acknowledged the previous president's part in inciting the crowd, while relating their own direct experience with the violence that day. Prosecutors and defence counsel have sparred about how much guilt should be placed on him. Metropolitan and Capitol police personnel are frequently seen in court, testifying about the physical and psychological stress they experienced as a result of the unrest. In their requests for clemency, criminals and their families have also mentioned Trump.

Given the city's political leaning, Trump's counsel have hinted that the election subversion case should be shifted elsewhere. However, in the Capitol mob cases, hundreds of his followers have received fair trials, with some obtaining acquittals, in the DC federal courthouse.


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