Donald Trump was set to turn himself in Thursday to authorities in Georgia on charges that he illegally schemed to overturn the 2020 election in that state. And, his county jail booking was expected to yield a historic first: a mug shot of a former American president.
Trump's surrender, coming amid an abrupt shake-up of his legal team, follows the presidential debate in Milwaukee the night before featuring his leading rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination — a contest in which he remains the leading candidate despite broad legal troubles. His presence in Georgia, though likely brief, is swiping the spotlight anew from his opponents after the debate in which they sought to seize on his absence to elevate their own presidential prospects.
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, Trump’s lawyer and confidant, turned himself in on Wednesday and had a booking photo taken.
The criminal cases have spurred a succession of bookings and arraignments, with Trump making brief court appearances before returning to the campaign trail. He's turned the appearances into campaign events amid a far lighter schedule than his rivals, with staff delighting in 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.
His Atlanta appearance will be different from others, though, requiring him to surrender at a problem-plagued jail — but without an accompanying court appearance for now. Unlike in other cities that did not require him to pose for a mug shot, Fulton County officials have said they expect to take a booking photo like they would for any other defendant.
“Unless somebody tells me differently, we are following our normal practices, and so it doesn’t matter your status, we’ll have a mug shot ready for you,” Fulton County Sheriff Patrick Labat said at a news conference earlier this month.
District Attorney Fani Willis has given all of the defendants until Friday afternoon to surrender 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.
Trump is expected to turn himself in at the Fulton County jail, which 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.
But Trump is not expected to spend much time there.
His attorneys and prosecutors have already agreed to a bond of $200,000, along with conditions that include barring the former president from intimidating co-defendants, witnesses or victims in the case, including on social media.
When defendants arrive at the jail, they typically pass through a security checkpoint before checking in for formal booking in the lobby. During the booking process, defendants are typically photographed and fingerprinted and asked to provide certain personal information. Since Trump’s bond has already been set, he will be released from custody once the booking process is complete.
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 could have to make two trips 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.
When Trump eventually appears in court, the public is also likely to see much more of the proceedings firsthand. Georgia courts typically allow photographs and video of the proceeding, unlike in federal court and in New York, where press access is tightly controlled.
Only in Manhattan were still photographers allowed to capture images of Trump briefly while he sat at the witness stand. Federal courts generally prohibit photography, recordings and electronics of any kind.