Trump gave a thumbs-up to supporters as he left.
“It’s a very sad day for America,” he told reporters on the tarmac at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport before boarding his plane. “I thought the election was a rigged election, a stolen election. What has taken place here was a travesty of justice. What they’re doing is election interference. There’s never been anything like it in our country before.”
“We did nothing wrong at all,” he added. “We have every right, every single right, to challenge an election we think is dishonest.”
The former commander-in-chief and his allies broadcasted travel updates through the day, aiming to turn an otherwise humbling setback that could threaten his comeback bid into a political spectacle. He promised to “proudly” submit to arrest Thursday night and continue to fight the charges embedded in the 41-count indictment, the most sprawling of four criminal complaints leveled against Trump.
Outside the jail, dozens of his supporters gathered, waving flags and wearing MAGA hats as they proclaimed Trump’s innocence. At the Georgia Capitol and in Washington, Trump’s allies sought to undercut Willis’ case.
He surrendered on the eve of a Friday deadline set by Willis, who brought the charges after a special grand jury investigation that stretched for more than two years and involved dozens of witnesses. His bond stipulates he can’t intimidate witnesses or co-defendants in speeches or on social media posts, a pointed warning about his history of online attacks.
Credit: John Spink
Credit: John Spink
As Trump prepared to arrive in Atlanta, the jail was a hive of activity. Security officials implemented a “hard lockdown” at the facility and its parking lot was cordoned off. Convoys of patrol cars roamed the perimeter, flashing blue lights to clear roads.
Located just west of the Georgia Tech campus, the jail has been plagued for years by overcrowding, inmate deaths and violence. On Aug. 17, a 66-year-old man being held on a shoplifting charge was found dead in the jail’s medical unit. It was the third such death in the jail since July and the second in a week, according to the Fulton Sheriff’s Office. The Justice Department recently announced it is investigating conditions inside the lockup.
Hours before he was expected to surrender, a series of legal moves paved the way for intense maneuvering ahead.
Trump shook up his Atlanta-based legal team by replacing Drew Findling with veteran defense attorney Steve Sadow as his top lawyer in Atlanta. Sadow climbed aboard Trump’s plane after it landed Thursday in Atlanta and before the former president headed to the jail. Trump also sought to sever his case from co-defendant Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney who was granted a speedy trial demand for an Oct. 23 court date.
The scene outside the jail was at times chaotic as curious onlookers, die-hard Trump supporters and dozens of reporters convened in the searing heat to bear witness to the unprecedented moment.
More than 100 protesters gathered outside the jail, with some sporting red MAGA hats and colorful flags with Trump’s name in boldfaced letters. Demonstrators were urged to bring Trump gear, bullhorns — and their “love of President Trump.” The “Big Bad Wolf” from South Atlanta showed up in a furry mask and with a sign declaring that while he had huffed and puffed and blown down houses, Trump “tried to blow down democracy.”
In the state Capitol and halls of Congress, pro-Trump forces stepped up efforts to punish Willis and sideline her far-ranging indictment as the legal battle over the sweeping criminal charges intensified.
State Sen. Colton Moore, a Trump loyalist, showed up unexpectedly to the jail on Thursday to promote his doomed effort to force a special legislative session that could oust Willis.
And in Washington, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee opened a formal inquiry seeking documents outlining how Willis’ office is funded and details of her interactions with federal officials.
But there were also signs of support for Willis at the jail and beyond. Some planned parties to celebrate Trump’s arrests. Kimberly Wallace of Riverdale said she couldn’t pass up a chance to join the crowd outside the lockup.
“We are witnessing history,” she said. “And I just don’t understand why there aren’t more people here in support of Fani Willis. Even though I’m supposed to be getting my hair done now, I’m here for her.”
A Woodstock man who gave his name only as Joel had a more pointed message: “I want to see the sociopath who tried to steal my vote in 2020 go to prison.”
Trump’s surrender came hours after his top Republican rivals shared a stage in Milwaukee for the first GOP debate of the 2024 campaign, an event the former president skipped as polls show him with a dominant lead in his comeback attempt.
Even though it was a Trump-free event, the former president’s legal problems still shaped the two-hour debate as his rivals tried to differentiate themselves to make up ground in the polls. Most said they would still back Trump even if he’s convicted.
The former president’s polling strength has increased in some states since prosecutors announced indictments against him in Miami, New York, Washington and Atlanta. In all, Trump faces 91 felony charges across the four criminal cases that could carry dozens of years of prison time.
Credit: Steve Schaefer
Credit: Steve Schaefer
In Atlanta, the indictments accuse Trump and allies of a sprawling effort to reverse Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the 2020 election, an alleged conspiracy that stretches from the halls of the state Capitol to a rural Georgia elections board to conference rooms in other battleground states.
The defendants are accused of engaging in a “criminal enterprise” to reverse the results by lying to state lawmakers, gathering pro-Trump fake electors to circumvent his defeat, intimidating election workers, breaching voting machines in Coffee County and engaging in a coverup.
Trump and his co-defendants, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and ex-Georgia GOP chair David Shafer, have said they are victims of a corrupt justice system.
The former president has used unsparing language to criticize Willis, calling her “crooked, incompetent and highly partisan” prosecutor bent on derailing his comeback bid to help Biden’s campaign for a second term.
Staff writers Tamar Hallerman, Zachary Hansen, Tia Mitchell and Bill Rankin contributed to this report.
Credit: Katelyn Myrick
Credit: Katelyn Myrick