The 77-year-old Donald Trump is expected to enter a plea of not guilty at the hearing. (File)
Donald Trump will appear in court on Thursday to answer charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, a case set to cast a dark and volatile cloud over the 2024 White House race for which he remains the presumptive Republican nominee.
Metal barricades and municipal trucks formed a security ring around the E. Barret Prettyman courthouse in Washington, where the arrest and arraignment of the former president will take place within sight of the US Capitol that was breached by his supporters on January 6, 2021.
Police and sniffer dogs gathered outside the court, while scores of reporters from the world's media camped overnight to seek a spot inside.
The 77-year-old Trump is expected to enter a plea of not guilty at a hearing at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT) before magistrate judge Moxila Upadhyaya. He is likely to be fingerprinted but not have a mugshot taken.
The accusations that Trump and six unnamed co-conspirators plotted to upend the 2020 election is the former president's third criminal indictment since March, and the most serious of the cases threatening to derail his comeback bid.
He slammed the alleged "unprecedented weaponization" of the Justice Department in a post on his Truth Social platform, accusing President Joe Biden of seeking to charge him with "as many crimes as can be concocted."
"But soon, in 2024, it will be our turn," he wrote.
Joe Biden, for his part, kept up his reticence over his rival's legal peril.
When asked during a morning bike ride while vacationing in Delaware if he would be following the arraignment, his response was a curt "No."
'Knowingly false claims'
Special counsel Jack Smith unveiled a 45-page indictment of Trump on Tuesday charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States and attempting to disenfranchise American voters with his false claims that he won the November 2020 election.
"The purpose of the conspiracy was to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 presidential election by using knowingly false claims of election fraud," the indictment said.
Mr Smith, a former war crimes prosecutor at the Hague, linked Trump's actions following his loss to Joe Biden directly to the attack on the Capitol, which he called an "unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy."
"It was fueled by lies," Mr Smith said.
Trump is already scheduled to go on trial in Florida in May of next year on charges that he took top secret government documents to his Mar-A-Lago estate in Florida and refused to return them.
The twice-impeached former president also faces criminal charges in New York for allegedly paying election-eve hush money to a porn star.
He has pleaded not guilty both those cases.
Regain the White House?
The new conspiracy charges raise the prospect of Trump being further embroiled in legal proceedings at the height of what is expected to be a bitter presidential campaign.
The plot allegedly included attempts to pressure Mike Pence into throwing out Electoral College votes at the January 6 joint session of Congress called to certify Biden's win, which the vice president eventually refused to do.
"I had no right to overturn the election," Pence, who is also seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, said Wednesday.
Although Trump's arraignment will be before a magistrate judge, the actual case is to be heard by US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan.
Judge Chutkan, 61, ruled against Trump in 2021 when he filed a suit asserting executive privilege to block documents from being handed over to a congressional committee investigating the attack on the Capitol.
As president, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives for seeking political dirt on Biden from Ukraine and over the events of January 6, and was acquitted by the Senate both times.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)