Trump’s arraignment on federal charges: Here’s what to expect


Former President Donald Trump is expected to be arraigned in at the Elijah Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon on four felony charges related to his alleged efforts to remain in power following his loss in the 2020 election.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of his court hearing in this case, which is unlike any other in U.S. history.

What is Trump charged with?

The 45-page indictment unsealed Tuesday accuses Trump of: 

  • Conspiracy to defraud the United States;
  • Conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding;
  • Obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding;
  • Conspiracy against rights.

“Conspiracy against rights” refers to an effort to “injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate” people from their constitutional or federal rights, in this case their right to have a fairly counted vote.

What are the allegations?

The indictment, brought by special counsel Jack Smith, alleges a scheme orchestrated by Trump and six unnamed, unindicted co-conspirators designed to overturn the election results, despite losing to then President-elect Joe Biden and knowing that there was no credible evidence of widespread fraud. It also accuses Trump of seeking to “exploit” the chaos of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, in a bid to stop the certification of electoral votes.

What is an arraignment?

An arraignment is an initial hearing in which a defendant enters a plea in a criminal case. The Justice Department describes this hearing as when “the defendant learns more about their rights and the charges.” The arraignment is also when the judge decides if the defendant will be jailed or released on bond prior to trial.

Wasn’t Trump already arraigned in June? Or was that April?

Both. This is the third indictment of Trump this year. On April 4, Trump entered a not guilty plea to 34 New York State felony falsification of business records charges. It was the first time in American history a former president had been charged with a crime. 

On June 13, Trump entered a not guilty plea in Miami to 37 federal felony charges related to his alleged “willful retention” of national security information after leaving the White House. Three more charges in that case, which was brought by Smith’s office, were added on July 27.

Who is the judge?

Trump has been summoned to appear at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday before Magistrate Judge Moxila A. Upadhyaya at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C.

The case has been randomly assigned to U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan. Chutkan was appointed to the bench in 2014 by then President Obama, and has presided over the trials of numerous defendants in Jan. 6-related cases.

Will Trump enter a not guilty plea?

That’s the expectation. Trump has maintained his innocence and accused the Justice Department of persecuting him out of political animosity. On Wednesday morning, his attorney John Lauro said in an interview on “CBS Mornings” that he will argue Trump has a  “smoking gun of innocence.” Lauro said Trump was following the advice of an attorney, John Eastman, whom Lauro described as a “constitutional scholar.”

An attorney for Eastman said in a statement to CBS News Tuesday that he believes the “indictment relies on a misleading presentation of the record to contrive criminal charges against Presidential candidate Trump and to cast ominous aspersions on his close advisors.”

Will Trump be there in-person?

Trump’s previous two arraignments were in-person, but he has the option of appearing for Thursday’s arraignment via video feed. Lauro said during his CBS News interview Wednesday that the decision had not yet been made.

“It really depends on the security arrangements, so that’s not in our control, but what the president wants to do is absolutely defend himself on these baseless charges,” Lauro said.

Has Trump ever had a virtual court appearance?

The judge in Trump’s New York case allowed him to appear by video for a May 23 hearing. In New York, such a setup is extraordinarily rare, and it’s typically used for those who are hospitalized. In D.C. federal court, virtual appearances are more common and have been used for many of the defendants charged in other cases related to the Jan. 6 riot.

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