Former President Donald Trump said Thursday he is the victim of “persecution of a political opponent” minutes after pleading not guilty on four charges related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump appeared in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Thursday afternoon, less than 48 hours after being indicted on charges related to an investigation by Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith.

The 45-page indictment says Trump “was determined to remain in power” after losing the 2020 presidential election to President Joe Biden, and he “repeated and widely disseminated” false claims about the election’s legitimacy.

Trump indicted over 2020 election interference

The four counts against Trump are conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official preceding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights.

Trump traveled to and from the courthouse in a long police motorcade. Upon arriving at Reagan National Airport after the trial, the former president emerged from a black SUV — wearing a navy suit and red tie, with a black umbrella in hand — to address a gaggle of reporters. “This is a very sad day for America,” he said.

“This is a persecution of a political opponent,” he continued. “This is the persecution of the person that’s leading by very, very substantial numbers in the Republican primary, and leading Biden by a lot. So if you can’t beat him, you persecute him or prosecute him. We can’t let that happen in America.”

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Trump maintains a significant lead in national GOP primary polls, with his closest challenger — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — trailing by over 30 percentage points. Many polls projecting a hypothetical Biden-Trump rematch in the general election show the candidates tied or Biden with a slight lead. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows that about half of Republicans would not vote for Trump if he were convicted of a felony.

This was Trump’s third visit to court in less than six months. He was arraigned twice over felony charges for allegedly mishandling classified documents and falsifying business records. Also, in May he was found liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll.

Because Smith’s office did not seek pretrial detention for Trump, the former president was released after a short visit to the courthouse. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for August 28.