Trump mugshot tee shirts are for sale at the Y-Que shop in Los Angeles, California, on August 30, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

ATLANTA: Donald Trump entered a plea of not guilty to charges alleging he participated in a vast criminal conspiracy to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia and waived his right to an in-person arraignment hearing in the matter, according to a new court filing from his attorney in the Fulton County election interference case.

That means he won’t have to show up for an arraignment hearing that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee had set for next week.

Also read

The decision to skip an in-person appearance averts the dramatic arraignments that have accompanied the three other criminal cases Trump faces, in which the former president has been forced amid tight security into a courtroom and entered “not guilty” pleas before crowds of spectators.

The written plea was filed on Thursday by Steve Sadow, an Atlanta criminal defence attorney who was tapped August 24 to lead the former president’s Georgia-based legal team. The filing means Trump won’t return to Atlanta on Wednesday, where Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the proceedings, has scheduled a series of arraignment hearings for Trump and the 18 co-defendants in the sprawling criminal racketeering case.

In the filing, titled “President Trump’s entry of plea of not guilty and enter of waiver of appearance at arraignment,” the former president stated that he was “freely and voluntarily” waiving his right to be present at his arraignment and have his charges read to him in open court.

Trump is facing 13 counts in the Georgia case, including violating the state’s racketeering act, soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, conspiring to impersonate a public officer, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree and conspiring to file false documents. The former president has denied any wrongdoing and has condemned the investigation, led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), as a “political witch hunt.”

Trump surrendered last week at the Fulton County Jail, a notorious Atlanta lockup where he was booked and quickly released on a $200,000 bond that includes restrictions on his conduct, including provisions that bar him from intimidating witnesses or fellow co-defendants or making any “direct or indirect threat of any nature against the community.”

Like the 18 others indicted in the case, Trump was fingerprinted and photographed, resulting in the first mug shot of a former American president. With Thursday’s filing, Trump became the fourth defendant to plead not guilty.

Trump’s attorney has signaled he will vigorously challenge the charges against his client, who he has said should have never been charged in the case. Sadow has said he will file a motion to dismiss the charges and move to sever Trump’s case from other co-defendants, including former Trump campaign attorney Kenneth Chesebro, who are seeking a speedy trial in the matter.

Last week, McAfee approved an October 23 trial date for Chesebro, though Willis has argued she wants to try all 19 defendants, including Trump, on that date.

Trump’s gatekeeper

Trump is also expected to follow his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in seeking to move his case from state to federal court. Meadows spent more than four hours testifying on Monday before US District Court Judge Steve C. Jones, who is considering Meadows’ petition to move his case to federal court, where he will then seek to dismiss charges.

In his testimony, Meadows sought to portray himself as Trump’s gatekeeper and depicted his involvement in efforts to question Joe Biden’s legitimate victory in Georgia as part of his duties as Trump’s top White House aide and senior adviser. His attorneys have argued that should qualify his case for federal removal since they say he was acting under the “color” of his federal position.

But prosecutors have argued Meadows’ post-election efforts, including a visit to a suburban Atlanta ballot processing center and arranging the now-infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), violated the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from using their official roles to influence an election. They say Meadows saw “no distinction” between his White House work and the Trump campaign and have pressed Jones to deny Meadows’ petition - an outcome which could have sweeping effect on other current and future removal requests in the case, including Trump’s expected petition.