Donald Trump surrendered to authorities at the Fulton County jail in Atlanta on Thursday on charges that he and 18 of his top allies of creating a "criminal enterprise" to overturn the state's 2020 presidential election results.
Thursday's proceedings yielded a significant milestone: the first mugshot of a former president in U.S. history.
Trump was released on $200,000 bond and headed back to the airport for his return flight home to New Jersey, flashing a thumbs-up through the window of his sport utility vehicle as his motorcade left. A booking photo released by authorities shot Trump, wearing a navy suit and red tie, angrily scowling at the camera, his brows furrowed as he stares into the lens
Speaking to reporters on the tarmac at the Atlanta airport after he was booked and released from jail, Trump called Thursday's proceedings a "travesty of justice."
"I really believe this is a very sad day for America that should never happen," Trump said.
"If you challenge an election, you should be able to challenge an election. I thought the election was a rigged election, a stolen election, and I should have every right to do that," the former president continued, before baselessly accusing former 2016 rival Hillary Clinton and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams of taking similar actions.
"What has taken place here is a travesty of justice," Trump said. "We did nothing wrong, I did nothing wrong, and everybody knows that -- I've never had such support. And that goes with the other ones too," referring to the multitude of other criminal cases against him.
Trump went on to baselessly frame the cases against him as "election interference" brought by perceived political rivals, adding: "There's never been anything like it in our country before. This is their way of campaigning."
"We did nothing wrong at all," Trump said as he concluded his brief remarks. "And we have every right, every single right, to challenge an election that we think is dishonest that we think is very dishonest."
Trump faces 13 felony charges in the case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, including violation of Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer and numerous conspiracy charges. The RICO charge carries a minimum of five years in prison.
It’s the fourth time in 4½ months Trump has been indicted. The former president has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has repeatedly railed against Willis, calling the case politically motivated.
"I have to start getting ready to head down to Atlanta, Georgia, where Murder and other Violent Crimes have reached levels never seen before, to get ARRESTED by a Radical Left, Lowlife District Attorney, Fani Willis, for A PERFECT PHONE CALL, and having the audacity to challenge a RIGGED & STOLEN ELECTION," the former president wrote on his social media platform earlier Thursday. "THE EVIDENCE IS IRREFUTABLE! ARREST TIME: 7:30 P.M."
Trump landed in Atlanta shortly after 7 p.m. and was driven, through the city's rush-hour traffic, to jail for the booking process. Wearing his signature white shirt and red tie, he offered a wave and thumbs up as he descended the steps of his private plane.
According to Fulton County court records, Trump was listed at 6′ 3″ with a weight of 215 pounds and "blonde or strawberry" hair. He was booked and released from jail late Thursday evening, with his motorcade heading back to the airport.
The former president's arrival follows a presidential debate featuring his leading rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination, a contest in which he remains the leading candidate despite accelerating legal troubles. His presence in the state, though likely brief, is expected to swipe the spotlight at least temporarily from his opponents in the aftermath of a debate in which other candidates sought to seize on his absence to elevate their own presidential prospects.
The Fulton County prosecution is the fourth criminal case against Trump since March, when he became the first former president in U.S. history to be indicted. Since then, he's faced federal charges in Florida and Washington, and this month he was indicted in Atlanta with 18 others — including his ex-chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — under a racketeering statute normally associated with gang members and organized crime. Giuliani, Trump's lawyer and confidant, turned himself in on Wednesday and had a booking photo taken.
Giuliani surrendered on Wednesday and posed for a mug shot. Meadows, who had sought to avoid having to turn himself in while he seeks to move the case to federal court, turned himself in Thursday. Bond was set at $100,000.
The criminal cases have spurred a succession of bookings and arraignments, with Trump making brief court appearances before returning to the 2024 campaign trail. He's turned the appearances into campaign events amid a far lighter schedule than his rivals, with staff delighting in wall-to-wall media coverage that has included news helicopters tracking his every move.
Earlier Thursday, Willis' office proposed an Oct. 23, 2023, trial date, though the complexities of the 19-person case — and potential scheduling conflicts with other Trump prosecutions — would appear to make it all but impossible. The date seemed to be a response to early legal maneuvering by at least one defendant, Kenneth Chesebro, who requested a speedy trial.
Just ahead of his surrender, Trump hired a new lead attorney for the Georgia case.
Prominent Atlanta criminal defense attorney Steve Sadow took the place of another high-profile criminal defense attorney, Drew Findling, who had represented Trump as recently as Monday when his bond terms were negotiated. But by Thursday Findling was no longer part of the team, according to a person with knowledge of the change who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Sadow, who has represented a rapper, Gunna, who pleaded guilty last year in a racketeering case also brought by Willis, said in a statement that “the president should never have been indicted. He is innocent of all the charges brought against him.”
“We look forward to the case being dismissed or, if necessary, an unbiased, open minded jury finding the president not guilty," he added. "Prosecutions intended to advance or serve the ambitions and careers of political opponents of the president have no place in our justice system.”
It’s not the first time this year that Trump has shaken up his legal team either in the run-up to an indictment or in the immediate aftermath. One of his lead lawyers, Tim Parlatore, left the legal team weeks before Trump was indicted in Florida on charges of illegally hoarding classified documents, citing conflicts with a top Trump adviser. Two other lawyers, James Trusty and John Rowley, announced their resignations the morning after that indictment was returned.
Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He said in a social media post this week that he was being prosecuted for what he described in capital letters as a “perfect phone call” in which he asked the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, to help him “find 11,780 votes” for him to overturn his loss in the state to Democrat Joe Biden.
Hours before Trump's surrender, dozens of his supporters gathered Thursday morning outside the facility to show their support for the former president.
As afternoon passed into evening, demonstrators for and against Trump milled around outside the jail. There were more Trump supporters than opponents braving the Georgia summer heat, but the entire group was outnumbered by media near the Rice Street entrance to the jail, which was locked down tight.
As word spread that Trump was on his way to Atlanta, demonstrators lined security barricades outside the entrance, with people two to three deep trying to get a good view. Fulton County sheriff’s deputies blocked one end of the block outside the jail’s back entrance with an empty prisoner bus, while a county dump truck blocked the other end of the block on Jefferson St.
Many in the crowd wore pro-Trump T-shirts and waved large flags facing the street, including one that proclaimed “TRUMP WON.” Shortly after 6 p.m., U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican and a staunch Trump defender, arrived and spoke briefly to the crowd.
The scene outside the jail included supporters of the former president such as Cliff MacMorris, 66, from Naples, Florida, who held a flag that read, “Trump Won Save America.”
He and his wife, Georgine, spent the night in Atlanta.
“You don’t have the right to persecute somebody unjustly,” Cliff MacMorris said.
His wife said the indictments against the former president were politically motivated because of the four years of “prosperity, safety, freedom” that Trump achieved in the White House.
“They must be worried about him for some reason,” she said.
Sharon Anderson, 67, from east Tennessee, was outside the jail for a second straight day. She had spent the night in a car with the air conditioning running.
“I’m here to support Donald J. Trump. I want him to see some of the millions that show up at the polls for him."
She said the indictments against Trump had only strengthened her support for him. The former president questioned the election results, which isn’t a crime, she said.
While the crowd was mostly made up of Trump supporters, 64-year-old Laurie Arbeiter, who is from New York City, wore a shirt that said “Arrest Trump” and carried more than 50 black-and-white signs with her, including ones that read “Convict Trump” and “Trump is a Traitor.” She said she'd also traveled to other places where Trump was indicted.