Former President Donald Trump said it was a “very sad day for America” after pleading not guilty in Washington’s federal court to charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election.
Trump addressed the proceedings in a brief statement on a drizzly tarmac before he boarded his plane back to New Jersey, characterizing the case as a “persecution” designed to hurt his 2024 presidential campaign.
“This is a persecution of a political opponent. This was never supposed to happen in America,” Trump said before boarding his plane for a return trip New Jersey following his court appearance in Washington.
“We can’t let this happen in America,” Trump said.
Trump pleaded not guilty to four federal counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States. He is accused of brazenly conspiring with allies to spread falsehoods and concoct schemes intended to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden.
Trump entered his plea in the same courthouse where more than 1,000 protesters, many of them his supporters, have been charged with federal crimes for their participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that halted the certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
Trump was released on conditions, including that he not have contact about the case with any witnesses unless attorneys are present.
“If you fail to comply with any conditions of your release, a warrant may be issued for your arrest,” Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya told him.
Trump’s face appeared set and serious, and he occasionally wrote on a paper in front of him throughout the hearing. As it drew to a close, Trump thanked the judge before leaving the courtroom through the same door that he entered.
During the proceedings, attended by roughly 100 people in the courtroom, Trump and Smith appeared to avoid direct and prolonged eye contact, according to several media reports.
Special counsel Jack Smith sat in the front row of the courtroom gallery, about 15 feet from Trump’s seat at the defense table with his lawyers.
The complications of Trump not being allowed to discuss the case with potential witnesses was underscored by the entourage that traveled with him to Washington on Thursday. He was accompanied by top campaign aides including Boris Epshteyn, a longtime adviser who was allegedly part of efforts to overturn the election results by organizing alternate electors.
The next hearing in Trump’s 2020 election conspiracy case has been set for Aug. 28, just days after the first debate in the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
The hearing set for later this month will be the first one in front of U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who will oversee the case brought by special counsel Smith. Trump appeared before a magistrate judge for his first court appearance Thursday, where he pleaded not guilty.
Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya said Chutkan is willing to waive Trump’s appearance at the hearing so he doesn’t have to attend. The judge is expected to set a trial date then.
An Aug. 28 hearing would fall just five days after the first Republican presidential debate will be held in Milwaukee. Although Trump has repeatedly suggested he will not participate — saying he sees little benefit in appearing alongside lower-polling rivals — he has not explicitly ruled it out.
Newsmax contributed to this report.
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