Trump pleads not guilty in Georgia election fraud case

Former US President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty in his Georgia election fraud case, waiving the right to appear in court next week.

Mr Trump is among 19 people charged with a conspiracy to overturn the US state’s 2020 vote results.

He turned himself in at Fulton County Jail in Atlanta last week, where he had his mugshot taken.

Mr Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, describing the case as politically motivated.

In total, Mr Trump faces 13 felony counts – including racketeering – for allegedly pressuring Georgia officials to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election in that state.

In a court document filed on Thursday, Mr Trump said he “fully understands” the nature of the allegations and his right to appear in court.

“Understanding my rights, I do hereby freely and voluntarily waive my right to be present at my arraignment on the indictment and my right to have it read to me in open court,” the signed document says.

Mr Trump, the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has appeared at each of his three previous arraignments.

He was required to do so for the cases he is facing in New York and Florida, and opted not to request a virtual appearance for a separate case in Washington DC.

In all three cases, there was tight security as Trump supporters and counter-protesters gathered near the courthouses.

Mr Trump surrendered and was arraigned simultaneously in his federal court cases, which led to his high-profile courtroom appearances. However, in Georgia state court, a defendant’s surrender and arraignment usually happen separately.

Brian Tevis, an Atlanta attorney who represents one of Mr Trump’s co-accused, Rudy Giuliani, told CBS, the BBC’s US partner, that “99% of the time” defendants who are given the option choose to waive their arraignment.

Clark Cunningham, a law professor at Georgia State University, said that decision is “usually non-controversial”.

“Mr Trump fully knows the charges against him,” he said. “That’s the main purpose of the arraignment, to read the charges to the accused, and [to enter] the person’s plea. So he doesn’t need to be there, he knows what they are.”

Earlier this week, three other co-defendants in the case entered not guilty pleas, including former Trump attorneys Ray Stallings Smith and Sidney Powell, as well as former celebrity publicist Trevian Kutti.

Mr Trump was originally due to be arraigned on 6 September, followed by the other defendants in 15-minute intervals.

All 19 defendants in the case – including Mr Trump – are charged with violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, commonly known as the Rico act.

Across the US and at the federal level, Rico laws are used to help prosecutors connect underlings who broke the law with those who gave orders or organised the crime.

Fulton County’s District Attorney, Fani Willis, a Democrat, has increasingly come under fire from some Republicans and Trump allies for her decision to indict Mr Trump in the case.

Earlier in August, State Senator Colton Moore sent a letter to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a fellow Republican, calling for a special session to impeach Ms Willis.

At a Thursday news conference, Mr Kemp said he had yet to see evidence that such a move would be justified.

“As long as I am governor, we’re going to follow the law and the Constitution, regardless of who it helps or harms politically,” the governor said.

With additional reporting from Kayla Epstein.

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