Donald Trump posed for an unprecedented mugshot while surrendering at an Atlanta jail Thursday evening on charges of trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia — a sobering image that underlined the stark legal threat against him that could nevertheless boost his political momentum.
The former U.S. president, who is seeking a return to the White House next year, was fingerprinted and processed at the Fulton County Jail. The brisk, 20-minute process included the taking of a booking photo, a step that was skipped the prior three times Trump has been forced to surrender to authorities this year.
He was released on a US$200,000 bond with the promise to appear for an arraignment next month.
“This is a very sad day for America,” Trump told reporters on the tarmac outside his private plane following his booking prior to departing Atlanta. He repeated his past insistence that he did nothing wrong in trying to change the election outcome.
“If you challenge an election, you should be able to challenge an election,” he added before boarding his plane.
Trump is the latest of 19 defendants charged by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is accusing them of participating in a criminal conspiracy to violate Georgia election laws.
Despite the sprawling nature of the racketeering case, Willis signalled earlier Thursday she is prepared to go to trial in less than two months, filing court papers outlining a proposed Oct. 23 date in response to another defendant’s request for a speedy trial. Willis had originally requested a March 4, 2024 start to the trial.
Trump, 77, had already entered uncharted territory as the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges earlier this year. Yet the four cases filed against him — 91 felony counts in total — have not slowed his momentum as the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination to run against Democratic President Joe Biden in next year’s election.
His surrender comes a day after he skipped the first debate in the primary race, opting instead to release a pre-recorded interview with the conservative media personality Tucker Carlson on social media.
Now the businessman-turned-politician, who has always craved publicity and hosted a reality TV show for years, has joined the ranks of gangster Al Capone, crooner Frank Sinatra and other high-profile Americans who have posed for jailhouse photographs.
The image is certain to be circulated widely by Trump’s foes and supporters alike.
“We want to put it on a T-shirt. It will go worldwide. It will be a more popular image than the Mona Lisa,” said Laura Loomer, 30, a Republican former congressional candidate who mingled with other Trump supporters outside the jail on Thursday morning.
Trump himself posted the mugshot on his Truth Social platform while enroute to his New Jersey golf resort. “NEVER SURRENDER!” was written underneath the photo.
He also posted the image to X, formerly known as Twitter, marking the first time he’s used the social media platform that banned him in 2021 after the Jan. 6 attack. His account was restored last year.
One of the most recognizable people in the world, Trump has not had to submit to a photo in the other three cases. But fake mug shots have circulated online since shortly after he was first indicted in Manhattan in March on charges involving hush money paid to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.
Some of his co-defendants already have been booked. Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York mayor, was stone-faced in his mug shot while lawyer Jenna Ellis smiled. Earlier Thursday, Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows posed for his own mug shot when he surrendered to authorities.
Another defendant, Harrison William Prescott Floyd, who led the group Black Voices for Trump, was booked Thursday but remained in custody as he had not negotiated a bond agreement ahead of time.
All 19 defendants must surrender by Friday at noon. Six other defendants had yet to turn themselves in as of Thursday night.
Trump faces 13 felony counts in the Georgia case including racketeering, which is typically used to target organized crime, for pressuring state officials to reverse his election loss and setting up an illegitimate slate of electors to undermine the formal congressional certification of Biden’s victory. The other charges are portrayed by Willis in the indictment as furthering the criminal enterprise charged under the state’s RICO Act.
The proposal by Willis for an October trial start is a revision that reflects a court filing the day earlier by one of the defendants – Kenneth Chesebro – demanding a speedy trial. Trump’s team is expected to push for a later date but has not yet made a proposal in court filings. A judge has yet to rule on when the trial might begin, with the defendants still due to be arraigned and enter pleas.
The road to a trial is due to be complicated by numerous motions to try and move the case to federal court, as Meadows and fellow defendant Jeffrey Clark have done, or otherwise delay the proceedings. Many of the defendants in the case are lawyers.
Trump, due to enter a plea in the Georgia case on Sept. 5, has pleaded not guilty in the other three other cases. He has denied wrongdoing and has called all the cases politically motivated.
FOUR CRIMINAL INDICTMENTS
In addition to the New York state charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump faces two sets of federal charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith – one case in Washington involving election interference and one in Miami involving classified documents he retained after leaving office in 2021.
He faces 91 criminal counts in total.
Trump has agreed to post US$200,000 bond and accepted bail conditions that would bar him from threatening witnesses or his 18 co-defendants in the Georgia case. Trump on Wednesday added Atlanta criminal defense attorney Steve Sadow to his legal team, a court filing showed.
Republicans who control the U.S. House of Representatives said on Thursday they would investigate whether Willis improperly coordinated with federal prosecutors. They previously launched an investigation of Bragg, who accused them of a “campaign of intimidation.”
About a dozen Trump supporters, some holding flags, gathered outside the jail awaiting his arrival.
“I’m here because I’m appalled at what’s happening,” said Bob Kunst, 81, a retiree who said he had driven from Miami Beach and stood outside the jailhouse with a homemade sign that read “Lock Biden Up.”
Trump’s planned jailhouse visit comes a day after his rivals in the race for the Republican presidential nomination met in Milwaukee for their initial debate. Trump skipped that event, but his presence was still felt, with the candidates asked about whether they would still support Trump if he becomes the nominee even after a possible conviction. Most said they would.
“I’ve been indicted four times — all trivial nonsense,” Trump told Carlson during their interview.
Trump’s lead in opinion polls in the Republican race has widened since his first indictment but political analysts have said his legal woes could alienate independent voters he would need to win a rematch with Biden.
With files from Reuters