ATLANTA — Former President Donald Trump surrendered Thursday on charges that he illegally schemed to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia, a brisk 20-minute booking that yielded a historic first: a mug shot of a U.S. ex-president.
He 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. Unrepentant but subdued after the brief jail visit, he insisted as has repeatedly has that he "did nothing wrong" and called the case accusing him of subverting election results a “travesty of justice.”
“If you challenge an election, you should be able to challenge an election," he told reporters on the airport tarmac before boarding his plane.
Trump’s surrender to law enforcement authorities, the fourth time this year, has become by now a familiar election-season routine in a way that belies the unprecedented spectacle of a former president, and current candidate, being booked on criminal charges. But his visit to Atlanta was notably different from the three past surrenders, unfolding at night and requiring him to visit a problem-plagued jail — rather than a courthouse. It occurred not in a liberal bastion like New York or Washington but rather in the heart of a battleground state seen as vital to the 2024 presidential race.
And unlike in other cities that did not require him to pose for a mug shot, a booking photo of him was taken, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proceedings.
His jail visit created a remarkable split-screen visual during a 2024 Republican primary contest in which he remains the leading candidate, coming one day after a debate in Milwaukee where eight of his leading rivals sought to exploit Trump's absence by standing out from the pack.
Trump landed in Atlanta shortly after 7 p.m. and was driven 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.
He completed the process in 20 minutes, providing officials as is customary with his physical measurements: 6 foot 3 inches. 215 pounds. Strawberry or blond hair.
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 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 wall-to-wall media coverage that has included news helicopters tracking his every move.
The campaign has also used the appearances to solicit fundraising contributions from his supporters as aides paint the charges as part of a politically motivated effort to damage his reelection chances. As Trump was en route from New Jersey to Atlanta, his campaign sent a message saying, “I’m writing to you from Trump Force One, on my way to Atlanta where I will be ARRESTED despite having committed NO CRIME.”
District Attorney Fani Willis had given all of the defendants until Friday afternoon to turn themselves in at the main Fulton County jail.
Just ahead of his expected 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.
The Fulton County jail where Trump surrendered has long been a troubled facility. The Justice Department last month opened a civil rights investigation into conditions, citing filthy cells, violence and the death last year of a man whose body was found covered in insects in the main jail’s psychiatric wing. Three people have died in Fulton County custody in the past month.
He did not spend much time there. His attorneys and prosecutors had already agreed to a $200,000 bond, plus conditions that include barring the former president from intimidating co-defendants, witnesses or victims in the case.
Unlike in other jurisdictions, in Fulton County, arraignments — in which a defendant appears in court for the first time — generally happen after a defendant surrenders at the jail and completes the booking process, not on the same day. That means Trump may have to make another trip to Georgia in the coming weeks though the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has said some arraignments in the case may happen virtually if the judge allows. Or he could waive Trump's arraignment.