Donald Trump set to make first court appearance in 2020 US election case

Donald Trump is expected to make his first court appearance on Thursday in the latest criminal case brought against him, in which the former US president is accused of attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The hearing is set to begin in federal court in downtown Washington at 4pm. It comes two days after the Department of Justice charged Trump with four criminal counts including conspiracies to defraud the US and to obstruct official proceedings.

Trump’s arraignment will occur just a few blocks from the US Capitol building, where a mob of his supporters sought to block the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory on January 6 2021. That violent riot, which is central to the criminal case against Trump, has become a symbol of the fragility of American democracy and drawn widespread condemnation from across the political spectrum.

The indictment unsealed on Tuesday alleges Trump launched a “criminal scheme” to stop the certification of Biden’s legitimate win alongside six co-conspirators. It is the second set of criminal charges brought against Trump by Jack Smith, the special counsel appointed by US attorney-general Merrick Garland to oversee investigations involving the ex-president.

Trump is expected to appear in person, as he did in a Miami federal court in June on charges of mishandling sensitive government documents related to national defence. He pleaded not guilty to dozens of criminal counts in that case, including conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements.

On Thursday, Trump is expected to submit his plea in the case related to the alleged 2020 election plot. Officials will take his fingerprints digitally but will not take his photograph as he is sufficiently recognisable, according to a spokesperson for the US Marshals Service. Trump must also provide personal information such as his address, date of birth and social security number.

Tom Manger, the US Capitol Police chief who spoke to reporters after a security scare forced the evacuation of US Senate office buildings on Wednesday, said law enforcement was ready for the arraignment.

“We are prepared for tomorrow,” Manger said. “We’ve been working with our partner agencies . . . in preparation for whenever the indictment did happen.”

The Trump campaign has said the indictment was part of a “continued pathetic attempt” by Biden and the DoJ to “interfere” with the 2024 election. Trump has vowed to pursue his campaign despite mounting legal challenges at federal and state level, and remains the clear frontrunner among Republicans seeking the party’s nomination to challenge Biden in the 2024 vote, even as the criminal cases against him mount.

Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination have mostly refrained from criticising him. Most have attacked the DoJ for “weaponising” the justice system against political foes. But there were exceptions.

“The events around the White House from election night forward are a stain on our country’s history and a disgrace to the people who participated. This disgrace falls the most on Donald Trump,” Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, tweeted late on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Mike Pence, the former vice-president who went ahead and certified the 2020 results despite Trump’s protests, told reporters at the Iowa state fair that the former president had been listening to “crackpot lawyers” who convinced him there was a way to stay in power.

Thursday’s arraignment — Trump’s third this year — may not be his last. A special grand jury in Georgia has also been investigating alleged interference in the 2020 polls by Trump and others. If local prosecutors decide to bring a separate case, it will probably materialise in the coming weeks.

Trump became the first former US president to be criminally charged four months ago when he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a case brought by the Manhattan district attorney. He was accused of masterminding a scheme aimed at quashing negative stories ahead of his 2016 presidential candidacy, which included a payment to an adult film actress.

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