NEW YORK (AFP): Donald Trump is to surrender on racketeering charges at a Georgia jail on Thursday, setting the stage for a fourth criminal trial next year as he campaigns to recapture the White House.
The 77-year-old former president will be arrested at Atlanta’s notorious Fulton County Jail, accused of conspiring with 18 co-defendants to try to overturn the 2020 election result in the key southern state.
The booking of the billionaire real estate tycoon, which may feature a mugshot for the first time, comes just hours after he spurned a primary debate featuring eight of his rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump may have been absent from the stage of the televised debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but he still stole the spotlight and was the focus of questions posed to the candidates seeking to be the Republican standard-bearer next year.
Asked if they would support Trump as the party’s nominee even if he were convicted in one of the four criminal cases he is facing, every candidate raised their hand except former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson and former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Instead of the debate, Trump opted for an interview with Tucker Carlson, a conservative former Fox News talk show host.
During the rambling pre-recorded interview, which aired on X, formerly known as Twitter, at the same time as the debate, Trump said it did not make sense for him to take part while he was leading his rivals by “50 to 60 points” in the polls.
“Do I sit there for an hour or two hours, whatever it’s going to be, and get harassed by people that shouldn’t even be running for president?” he said.
Trump dismissed the four criminal indictments filed against him as “nonsense” and said the Justice Department had been “weaponized” under Democratic President Joe Biden to hamstring his White House bid.
– ‘Proudly be arrested’ –
A tight security perimeter has been set up ahead of Trump’s arrival at the Fulton County Jail, an overcrowded facility that is under investigation by the Justice Department for a slew of inmate deaths and deplorable living conditions.
Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who brought the sweeping racketeering case, set a deadline of noon (1600 GMT) on Friday for the 19 defendants to surrender.
An exact time has not been given for Trump’s arrival, but the former president said in a post on his Truth Social platform it would be Thursday afternoon.
“NOBODY HAS EVER FOUGHT FOR ELECTION INTEGRITY LIKE PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP,” he posted, using all uppercase letters. “FOR DOING SO, I WILL PROUDLY BE ARRESTED TOMORROW AFTERNOON IN GEORGIA.”
Trump was able to dodge the humiliation of having a mugshot taken during his previous arrests this year: in New York on charges of paying hush money to a porn star, in Florida for mishandling top secret government documents, and in Washington on charges of conspiring to upend his 2020 election loss.
But Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said standard procedure in Georgia is for a defendant to have a mugshot taken before they are released on bond — already set at $200,000 in Trump’s case.
Trump’s surrender comes a day after that of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who served as Trump’s personal lawyer when he was in the White House and vigorously pushed the false claims that Trump had won the 2020 election.
Also facing charges in Georgia are Mark Meadows, Trump’s White House chief of staff, and John Eastman, a conservative lawyer who is accused of drawing up a scheme to submit a false slate of Trump electors to Congress from Georgia instead of the legitimate Biden ones.
– Four upcoming trials –
Trump is facing four criminal trials next year — during the Republican primary season, which begins in January, and at the height of the campaign for the November 2024 presidential vote.
Special counsel Jack Smith has proposed a January 2024 start date for Trump’s trial in Washington on charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, a campaign of lies that culminated in the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Trump’s attorneys have countered with an April 2026 start date — well after the 2024 election.
US District Judge Tanya Chutkan is to hold a hearing on Monday during which she is expected to set a date for what would be the first ever criminal trial of a former president.
Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, has asked for the racketeering case to begin in March 2024, the same month Trump is scheduled to go on trial in New York on charges of paying hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election.
Trump is scheduled to go on trial in Florida in May for allegedly taking government documents as he left the White House and refusing to return them.