Donald Trump came to Washington D.C. on Thursday to be arraigned for the third trial he’s faced this year.

But the day wasn’t strictly spent on legal matters. His team treated it as a political one too, with care given to all of the history and theatrics that accompany an ex-president’s booking at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse.

Trump arrived aboard his jet in the afternoon, decked in a standard blue suit and red tie with a full team in tow. Top aides Chris LaCivita, Susie Wiles, Jason Miller and Boris Epshteyn were there. So too was Alina Habba, his lawyer and main legal spokesperson.

Aides shot video footage of the arrival from the plane, while his operation blasted screen grabs of the cable news networks, all of them hyper focused on Trump’s arrival and motorcade ride through downtown D.C.

The portrayal they sought to convey was akin to that of a gladiator being summoned before the angry hordes in the coliseum. When the accompanying press corp got into the motorcade’s vans, Trump’s handlers gave them single-page pamphlets that described Special Counsel Jack Smith’s indictment of Trump for his efforts to overturn the election as part of the “Biden Playbook.” The document included pictures of Biden’s son Hunter, smoking a cigarette, and a timeline of every charge leveled against Trump set against every revelation made about younger Biden’s business exploits. Earlier in the day, his campaign put out a detailed attack on Smith’s wife.

“This is election interference at its finest against the leading candidate, right now, for president of either party,” Habba told reporters outside the courthouse, upon arrival.

Trump’s team has long viewed his trials not just as a courtroom crucible to be endured but as a political catapult to be utilized. He has fundraised off of them and demanded the loyalty of fellow Republicans over them. Before departing for D.C. on Thursday, he posted on his social media platform that a fourth indictment could ensure his election.

But the nation’s capital is a difficult backdrop for Trump to rally the masses. The city didn’t just overwhelmingly vote for Joe Biden in 2020, it was the site of the riot that has landed Trump in the very legal predicament he now faces.

The former president’s team has argued that this makes D.C. an inherently unfair place for him to face trial. It’s a plea likely to not hold much sway in the courtroom itself. But there were elements of that distaste apparent throughout the day.

On the ride over from the airport to the courthouse, a prominent middle finger was directed at the motorcade. Protesters showed up at the scene. Some of them were there to support the former president. But others weren’t, including one who held a sign suggesting that instead of denoting the year of the forthcoming election year, 20-24 was actually a reference to the years the ex-president would serve behind bars.

The site of the arraignment itself was outfitted with an intense barricade. Throngs of onlookers stood many yards away as Trump eschewed a grand entrance caught by cameras for one in an underground tunnel.

Once inside, all those theatrics seemed to slip away. Trump was no longer able to orchestrate a campaign setting around a legal trial. Instead, he was subjected to the type of indignities that come with being a criminal defendant. Magistrate Judge Moxila Upadhyaya informed him that he could face up to 20 years in prison and that he had the right to remain silent. He pleaded not guilty to all four counts against him. The judge warned him not to commit any crimes while out on release. His next hearing was scheduled for Aug. 28.

It was not the type of material fit for a campaign slogan. But within the hour, Trump had found his foot again. He had left the courthouse and headed back to the airport where he gave a brief statement to reporters while holding an umbrella to shield him from the rain.

“This was never supposed to happen in America,” he said. “This is the persecution of the person who is leading by very very substantial numbers in the Republican primary and leading Biden by a lot. So if you can’t beat ‘em, you persecute them or you prosecute them.”

By that point, his campaign had already dashed off a fundraising appeal under the name of Trump’s son Eric. “My father was just officially arraigned,” read the subject line.

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