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Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon to four federal counts of conspiracy and obstruction tied to his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss, leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol siege by a mob of his supporters.
Trump's second surrender and arraignment on federal felony charges, this time in a Washington federal courthouse where many Jan. 6 rioters have been tried and sentenced to jail, was freighted with the weight of history but also a mundane court hearing before a magistrate judge, Moxila Upadhyaya. The former president stated his name, age, affirmed he wasn't medicated or on drugs, entered his not guilty plea, and swore to abide by the lenient terms of his pre-trial release.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Trump," Upadhyaya began. She told Trump he had the right to remain silent, "just hours after Trump took to Truth Social to attack the prosecutors and judge in his case," Politico's Kyle Cheney noted, and the right to a court-appointed attorney — "another unintentionally ironic moment as Trump sat sandwiched between two high-priced lawyers funded by his 'Save America' political committee."
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Before Trump entered the courtroom, special counsel Jack Smith took a seat in the public gallery behind a team of FBI agents and federal prosecutors. Also seated in the visitors gallery were several D.C. federal judges, including Chief Judge James Boasberg — whose courtroom was used for the hearing — and Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The gaggle of judges "watched Trump's every move intently," Cheney reported.
There was very little spectacle inside the quiet courtroom, and reporters were unsure if the one potentially dramatic moment — when Trump and Smith locked eyes — actually happened. There was general agreement that, unlike in his first arraignment in Miami, Trump "stole furtive glances" at Smith, as BBC's Sam Cabral recounted.
This time, Trump and Smith "were positioned in a way that they could be visible to each other," Glenn Thrush said at The New York Times, but while "Trump glanced briefly" in Smith's direction, "he did not seem to make eye contact" with the "normally stoney-faced special counsel" whose charges could put Trump "in a federal prison for the rest of his life."
"If you blinked, you missed it," but "for a fleeting moment," Smith and Trump did appear to make eye contact, Cheney countered. "Smith said nothing audible during his hour in the room, but repeatedly shot glances at Trump, who occasionally shot them back until their eyes briefly met." Nomaan Merchant at The Associated Press recorded his own first-person observations about the arraignment.
At the end of the arraignment, Judge Upadhyaya said the next hearing in the case was Aug. 28, prosecutors said they wanted a speedy trial, Trump's lawyers said they wanted a lot of time to prepare Trump's defense, and the former president left the courtroom, telling reporters before boarding his private plane that "this is a very sad day for America" and he is the victim of political "persecution."
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