Trump pleads not guilty in Georgia election case

Former US president waives formal arraignment in case accusing him and 18 others of subverting 2020 election.

Donald Trump
Former US President Donald Trump has denied any wrongdoing, accusing prosecutors of seeking to derail his 2024 re-election bid [File: Alex Brandon/AP Photo]

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to election interference charges in the US state of Georgia, a court filing showed, as the former United States president waived a formal arraignment hearing in the widely watched case.

Thursday’s court filing, which was signed by Trump, reads: “As evidenced by my signature below, I do hereby waive formal arraignment and enter my plea of NOT GUILTY to the indictment in this case.”

The former president faces 13 criminal charges in Georgia, where prosecutors have accused him and 18 associates of joining a conspiracy to “unlawfully change the outcome” of the 2020 US presidential election in the state.

Prosecutors had set arraignment hearings for Trump and his co-defendants for September 6.

Trump, who remains the frontrunner in the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination race, surrendered last week at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta to face the charges.

He was swiftly released on $200,000 bond after becoming the first former president in US history to have his mugshot taken during his brief arrest.

The Georgia case is the second indictment accusing Trump of election interference and the fourth set of criminal charges against him so far this year.

Trump was arraigned in early August in federal court in Washington, DC on four federal charges related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election that he lost to his Democratic rival, President Joe Biden.

Separately, Trump was indicted in Florida in June on federal charges related to allegations he mishandled secret government documents.

He was also charged in New York on accusations he improperly altered business records to conceal a hush-money payment made to an adult-film star in advance of the 2016 elections.

He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing in all the cases, saying they are an attempt to derail his re-election campaign.

“What has taken place here is a travesty of justice. We did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong,” Trump told reporters after his booking in Atlanta last week.

The Georgia case

In Georgia, Trump and his co-defendants – who include aides, lawyers and political allies – were charged under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, also known as RICO, which is often reserved for prosecuting organised crime.

Prosecutors launched the investigation into the former president after a January 2, 2021 phone call between Trump and Georgia’s top election official was made public.

During the call, Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” to flip the state in his favour after he lost to Biden.

Trump has repeatedly hit out against Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who brought the charges against him in the state.

By waiving his arraignment on Thursday, Trump effectively called off next week’s hearing in Atlanta, which would have likely attracted large crowds of journalists, as well as supporters and detractors of the former president.

At least three of Trump’s co-defendants – lawyers Ray Smith and Sidney Powell, and publicist Trevian Kutti – also waived their formal arraignments and pleaded not guilty earlier this week.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Trump’s lawyers also asked the judge to sever his case from some of his co-accused who have sought a speedy trial in Georgia.

That would put Trump’s case on a different schedule from that of Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer for the ex-president’s 2020 campaign who is set to go to trial beginning in October.

Lawyers for the former president argued that they did not have sufficient time to prepare for that trial date.

Despite his legal woes, Trump has maintained a commanding lead in the race for the 2024 presidential nomination.

In fact, the ex-president has been using his Georgia mugshot to raise campaign funds, featuring it on merchandise, including cups and t-shirts, with the caption, “never surrender”.

Under the US Constitution, Trump can run for and be elected president even if he is convicted of the crimes of which he is accused.

However, the current situation is unprecedented, and it is unclear how a possible prison sentence would be navigated.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies