Former US President Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in the state of Georgia, where the ex-president and 18 allies are accused of seeking to subvert the 2020 election results.
Mark Meadows on Tuesday also waived a formal arraignment in the case, joining Trump and the other co-defendants in skipping the court hearings that had been scheduled for this week in Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta.
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The move allows Trump and his co-accused to avoid arraignments on Wednesday that likely would have attracted large crowds of journalists, as well as supporters and detractors of the former United States president.
Trump, who remains the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential frontrunner, and 18 co-defendants have been charged with trying to overturn the former president’s 2020 election defeat to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in the state.
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.
He was arraigned in early August on four federal charges related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and in June, he was indicted in the US state of Florida on allegations he mishandled secret government documents.
He was also charged in New York state 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.
Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing in all the cases, saying they are an attempt to derail his re-election campaign.
Georgia prosecutors had set arraignments for Trump and his co-defendants – who include aides, lawyers and political allies – for September 6, but the ex-president waived the hearing when he entered a not-guilty plea via a court filing last week.
CNN reported on Tuesday afternoon that all 19 people indicted in the case pleaded not guilty before their scheduled arraignments.
Trump, who personally faces 13 charges in Georgia, surrendered last month at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta and was released on $200,000 bond. He became the first former president in US history to have his mugshot taken during his brief arrest.
Trump and his co-defendants 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.
For his part, Meadows is accused in the Georgia indictment of making false statements about the election and conspiring with Trump to develop a plan to disrupt and delay the congressional certification of the electoral votes on January 6, 2021.
It also alleges that he tried to pressure a chief investigator in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, Frances Watson, to speed up the Fulton County signature verification and that he took part in Trump’s phone call with Raffensperger.
Meadows has sought to have his case moved to potentially more favourable terrain in US federal court, arguing last week that the state court in Georgia’s Democratic-heavy Fulton County was not the proper venue to hear the case.
During his testimony in federal court in Atlanta on August 28, Meadows also said he was just doing his job when he helped Trump try to challenge his 2020 election loss. “There was a political component to everything we did,” he said.