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Trump's day in court, an unusual proceeding before an unusual audience

Trump pleads not guilty after Jan. 6 indictment
Trump pleads not guilty following Jan. 6 indictment 03:20

Before either former President Donald Trump or special counsel Jack Smith had entered the courtroom Thursday, several federal judges walked in and sat in the back row of the gallery.

Sketch showing former President Donald Trump being arraigned in a Washington, D.C. federal court, Aug. 3, 2023. Sketch by William J. Hennessy, Jr.

The presence of judges sitting among the public underscored the extraordinary nature of the arraignment they were there to watch, a former president charged with federal felonies related to his efforts to overturn an election.

The group included D.C. District Chief Judge James Boasberg and Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who said during a 2021 sentencing hearing that those who egged on the Jan. 6 rioters "stoked the flames of fear."

They watched as Smith walked in and took his seat among at least a dozen prosecutors and investigators. 

A few minutes later came Trump, whose entourage included attorneys Evan Corcoran, Todd Blanche and John Lauro, as well as the spokesperson for Trump's presidential campaign, Steven Cheung.

Then, everyone waited for the judge, whispering quietly amongst themselves, twiddling fingers, looking around the oval, wood-paneled courtroom with its teal carpet and five large circular overhead light fixtures, as the hearing's scheduled 4 p.m. start time passed. At 4:05 p.m., Trump whispered with his lawyers. By 4:10 p.m., Smith was chatting, too. At 4:15 p.m., the judges looked grumpy.

Finally, at 4:17 p.m., all rose for Judge Moxila Upadhyaya. She asked Trump some basic questions. 

Trump, standing, wearing a navy suit, red tie and flag pin, answered each.

Asked to state his name, Trump replied: "Donald J. Trump. John."

And his age: "Seven, seven. 77."

Trump is charged with four felony counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.

Asked to enter a plea in the case, he said, "Not guilty," taking a beat between the words to emphasize the "not."

This is Trump's third arraignment in under four months, and he appeared to take the proceeding as seriously as the others. He rarely broke eye contact with Judge Upadhyaya as she addressed him, and watched intently as Lauro and prosecutor Thomas Windom previewed their arguments about the pace of the trial.

The special counsel is prepared to turn over a "substantial" amount of evidence quickly, Windom said, and wants a speedy trial schedule. 

Trump's team expected there'd be a "massive" amount of evidence, but Lauro said for that very reason they believe they'll need a lot of time to prepare for trial.

Upadhyaya said she conferred with Judge Tanya Chutkan, who will preside over the case for the rest of its proceedings, and the two sides should expect an initial trial date to be scheduled at their next hearing, on Aug. 28.

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