By Eric Tucker, Kate Brumback and Jill Colvin
A scowling Donald Trump posed for a mug shot Thursday as he surrendered inside a jail in Atlanta on charges that he illegally schemed to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia, creating a historic and humbling visual underscoring the former president's escalating legal troubles.
The booking photo instantly becomes part of the former president's legacy as he confronts criminal charges in four American cities while seeking to reclaim the White House. His aides swiftly seized on the image, fundraising off the first mug shot in American history of a former president as representative of the persecution they contend Trump is encountering. His opponents, meanwhile, are likely to use it to remind voters of dangers in electing a president facing dozens of felony charges.
Trump 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 again insisted 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.
Trump’s surrender to law enforcement authorities, the fourth time this year, has by now become 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.
And unlike in other cities that did not require him to pose for a mug shot, a booking photo of him was taken. It depicts Trump, wearing a navy suit and red tie, angrily scowling at the camera, his brows furrowed as he stares into the lens.
Before Trump's plane had crossed North Carolina, his campaign was already using the image to solicit contributions on a fundraising site. And for the first time since Jan. 8, 2021, he made a post on X, the website formerly known as Twitter, issuing a fundraising plea on the platform that prevented him from using his account after he helped spark the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“This mugshot will forever go down in history as a symbol of America’s defiance of tyranny,” said a Trump campaign fundraising email.
He also called into conservative TV channel Newsmax to talk about what he said had been “a very sad day for our country,.”
His jail visit created a remarkable split-screen visual during a 2024 Republican primary contest in which he remains the leading candidate, swiping the spotlight at least temporarily from his opponents and coming one day after a debate in Milwaukee where eight of his leading rivals sought to exploit Trump's absence by trying to stand out from the pack.
Trump landed in Atlanta around 7 p.m. and was driven to jail for the booking process. He offered a wave and thumbs-up as he descended the steps of his private plane.
He completed the process in a brisk 20 minutes, providing officials as is customary with his physical measurements: 6 foot 3 inches. 215 pounds. Blond or strawberry hair. And Trump, who for four years in the White House reveled in the title of “Mr. President,” was given the inmate number of P01135809.
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.
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 surrender, Trump hired a new lead attorney for the Georgia case.
Prominent Atlanta criminal defense attorney Steve Sadow replaced 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 said in a statement that “the president should never have been indicted. He is innocent of all the charges brought against him.”
Trump has repeatedly denied 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.
Charles Shaw, CEO of Foster Bail Bonds in metro Atlanta, said his company put up Trump’s $200,000 bond. Shaw said Trump paid his company 10% — or $20,000 — which is customary for bail bondsmen to charge. Shaw said he doesn’t know Trump, but that Trump’s Atlanta defense attorneys have a close business relationship with his company.
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 permits. Or Trump's arraignment could be waived.
Tucker reported from Washington, Colvin from New York. Associated Press writers Sudhin Thanawala, Jeff Amy and Jeff Martin in Atlanta and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga. contributed to this report.
Updated August 25, 2023 at 5:10 a.m. ET with latest details.