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Trump pleads not guilty to charges he conspired to overturn the 2020 election


Let's focus on former President Donald Trump's return to Washington, where demonstrators outside of a federal courthouse had a clear message for him, and it was quite similar to what Trump used to say about Hillary Clinton.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Lock him up. Lock him up. Lock him up.


Inside the building, Trump pleaded not guilty to four felony charges stemming from his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Prosecutors say he conspired to spread lies to create an atmosphere of mistrust and anger that culminated in the Capitol riot.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson spent all day at that courthouse. She's on the line now to tell us some more about it.

Carrie, of the three indictments Trump has received this year, this one is widely viewed as the most serious. Did that come across in yesterday's arraignment?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: It really did, A. The special counsel investigation puts Trump at the center of overlapping conspiracies to defraud the government he once led, to pressure state election officials and his own vice president, to try to stop the vote certification and to deprive Americans of the right to have their votes counted in 2020. And even with all of Donald Trump's legal problems, it felt like a big moment to hear the clerk read out the case - the United States of America v. Donald J. Trump. Five people who waited overnight outside the courthouse actually got to witness history from inside the room yesterday.

MARTÍNEZ: So take us in. Take us inside that room. What happened?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The magistrate judge, Moxila Upadhyaya, gave Donald Trump a roadmap. She read the four charges against him and accepted his plea of not guilty, and she released the former president with minimal conditions. Basically, don't commit a new crime, and don't talk to people you think might be witnesses in this case without going through their lawyers. The judge also reminded Trump he can't bribe or threaten or retaliate against people, and she set his next court date for the end of the month, August 28.

MARTÍNEZ: How did Trump react when the judge was speaking to him in the court and then when he was outside the court?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Inside the courtroom, the former president seemed to be somber and to respect the judge. But on the way to D.C. yesterday, he disparaged prosecutors and wrote to supporters, quote, "I am being arrested for you." Then after the court hearing, Trump made some remarks at the airport.


DONALD TRUMP: This was never supposed to happen in America. This is the persecution of the person that's leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Biden by a lot. So if you can't beat him, you persecute him, or you prosecute him.

JOHNSON: And of course, A, the Justice Department says it's acting independent of the current president, Joe Biden. And Attorney General Merrick Garland named a special counsel in this case to try to insulate it from any politics.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Do we know anything more about Donald Trump's strategy?

JOHNSON: His strategy is going to be delay. The special counsel prosecutor is asking for a speedy trial, so Trump is treated like any other defendant. But Trump's lawyer, John Lauro, says that's a bit absurd. He says there's a lot of evidence to review - paper and electronic records. He's going to need months to sift through all that. And Trump's lawyer says a fair trial is more important than a fast one. The judge responded she could guarantee Trump would receive a fair trial in this case. She said they should prepare to learn a trial date at that next hearing, August 28.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.