By KATE BRUMBACK (Associated Press)
ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty on Thursday and sought to sever his case from some other defendants who are accused along with him of illegally trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee had set arraignment hearings on Sept. 6 for Trump and the 18 others charged in the case. Trump’s court filing entering a not guilty plea also waived arraignment, meaning he won’t have to show up for that.
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 Republican former president has been forced amid tight security into a courtroom and entered “not guilty” pleas before crowds of spectators. Georgia courts have fairly permissive rules on news cameras in the courtroom, and this means Trump won’t have to enter a plea on television.
McAfee said Thursday that he planned to allow live-streaming of the trial on a Fulton County-provided YouTube channel.
Trump and 18 others were charged earlier this month in a 41-count indictment that outlines an alleged scheme to subvert the will of Georgia voters who had chosen Democrat Joe Biden over the Republican incumbent in the presidential election.
An attorney for Trump also asked McAfee on Thursday to separate his case from those of defendants who have asked for an expedited trial. The judge has already set an Oct. 23 trial date for one of those defendants. Giving the former president less than two months to prepare a defense against a 98-page indictment would “violate President Trump’s federal and state constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process of law,” attorney Steve Sadow said in a court filing.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has said she wants all of the defendants tried together. After one defendant filed a demand for a speedy trial, she asked the judge to set an Oct. 23 trial date for everyone.
Thursday’s developments add to the pre-trial legal jousting that has dominated the two weeks since the indictment was brought, underscoring the complexities inherent in attempting to bring 19 defendants to trial at once — including an ex-president — and foreshadowing the delays ahead as judges sift through competing arguments from the defendants.
Jenna Ellis, an attorney who prosecutors say was involved in efforts to persuade state lawmakers to unlawfully appoint presidential electors, also pleaded not guilty and waived arraignment Thursday.
Three other people charged in the indictment had already waived arraignment in filings with the court, saving them a repeat trip to Atlanta after they all turned themselves in at the Fulton County Jail last week. Trump surrendered at the jail on Aug. 24, where he became the first former president to have a mug shot taken.
The case, filed under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, is sprawling, and the logistics of bringing it to trial are likely to be complicated.
At least two defendants have filed demands for a speedy trial and have asked to be tried separately from others in the case. The judge set an Oct. 23 trial date for one of them, Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer who worked on the coordination and execution of a plan to have 16 Georgia Republicans sign a certificate falsely stating that Trump won the state and declaring themselves the state’s “duly elected and qualified” electors.
Some of the others charged are trying to move their cases to federal court. A judge on Monday heard arguments on such a request by former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, but the judge did not immediately rule.
Trump, the front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, has criticized the cases against him as part of a politically motivated attempt to keep him from winning back the White House.
Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
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