MIAMI – Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal criminal charges that he hoarded classified military secrets at his estate in Mar-a-Lago and hindered the government’s attempts to get the documents back.
“Your honor, we most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche told the federal magistrate judge who presided over Trump’s 48-minute arraignment.
After the hearing, Trump was released on his own recognizance. Prosecutors did not ask for any significant pretrial conditions, such as restrictions on his travel or the surrender of his passport. The magistrate judge, Jonathan Goodman, did order Trump not to discuss the case with potential witnesses outside the presence of his lawyers.
Trump faces 37 felony charges: 31 counts of willful retention of national security records and six counts for allegedly obstructing the federal effort to recover those documents. It is the first time in American history that a former president has been indicted by the government he once led.
Trump, who wore a blue suit and red tie, remained stoic throughout the proceeding, largely keeping his gaze fixed toward the front of the courtroom and his arms folded. He did not speak to the magistrate judge. Only about 10 members of the public were granted access to the proceeding, with most of the courtroom’s seats occupied by members of the media and Trump’s Secret Service detail.
The session began with a bout of eerie silence, as Trump and the lawyers awaited the start of the proceeding. Trump was flanked on his left by Christopher Kise, the prominent Florida-based lawyer he tapped to join his legal team last year, and on his right by Blanche, a New York white-collar defense attorney who joined Trump’s team in April. Next to Blanche was Trump’s longtime valet and now-codefendant, Walt Nauta, who was seated next to his own attorney, Stanley Woodward.
The prosecution table included attorneys David Harbach, a veteran Justice Department lawyer and longtime ally of special counsel Jack Smith, as well as counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt and his deputy Julie Edelstein.
For Trump, the arraignment was the latest inflection point in his growing legal troubles. Just 10 weeks ago, Manhattan prosecutors charged Trump with 34 felonies under New York law for allegedly falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments to a porn star.
Trump now faces parallel criminal prosecutions — not to mention two other ongoing criminal probes into his role in 2020 election interference — as he mounts his bid to regain the White House in 2024.
If found guilty in the documents case, Trump could face a lengthy prison term.
Shortly after Trump arrived at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. federal courthouse here on Tuesday afternoon, authorities booked Trump and Nauta as criminal defendants. Nauta is accused of conspiring with Trump to obstruct the grand jury investigation into his alleged retention of highly classified military secrets. Nauta faces six felony counts. He did not enter a plea on Tuesday because he had not yet retained local counsel, and he was released on his own recognizance.
For most of the arraignment, Goodman and the lawyers discussed whether Trump should be subject to a so-called no-contact order restricting his communications with witnesses in the case. Judges routinely impose such orders on defendants awaiting trial, but prosecutors did not seek a no-contact order for Trump. Trump’s team vigorously opposed the idea, noting that Nauta and some witnesses work at Mar-a-Lago and need to communicate regularly with Trump.
Goodman initially indicated he was inclined to impose a no-contact order, but after back-and-forth with both sides, Goodman dialed back that proposal, and simply ordered Trump not to discuss the case outside the presence of counsel with a list of witnesses that prosecutors will submit to the court.
No future court dates were set for Trump, and Goodman noted at the end of the hearing that his brief involvement with the case was likely over. The case has been assigned to Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who ruled favorably for him during an earlier phase of the documents investigation.
The arraignment will trigger a lengthy pretrial process as prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers attempt to hammer out agreements on evidence in the case and schedule a trial.
In the hours leading up to Trump’s arrival, a familiar tension was in the air on a hot, humid day in Miami. Security forces and police ramped up patrols around the courthouse and warned against street clashes and other potential dangers. The charged atmosphere was reminiscent of Trump’s first arraignment at a courthouse in lower Manhattan in April.
Reporters and interested members of the public began lining up at the Miami courthouse on Monday night hoping for a seat in the small courtroom where Trump’s arraignment would occur. The court set up extra “overflow” rooms and adopted new, one-day restrictions on journalists carrying electronics. No cameras are allowed inside.
Trump has spent the days since last week’s indictment assailing the Justice Department and seeking, despite the evidence arrayed against him, to cast the prosecution as politically motivated. He has lobbed particularly pointed invective at Smith, who is leading the investigation.
That continued Tuesday, with Trump suggesting on social media — also without evidence — that investigators planted evidence in his home, a case he and his lawyers have notably refused to make in a courtroom.
“They taint everything that they touch, including our country, which is rapidly going to HELL!” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Tuesday morning.
Trump’s odyssey through the legal system is only beginning. The New York hush money case is slated for trial in March 2024, and prosecutors are nearing charging decisions in their investigations into Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election. And even as Trump’s arraignment was wrapping up on Tuesday, a federal judge in New York ruled that E. Jean Carroll can expand her pending defamation lawsuit against him. (Carroll has already won a civil verdict against Trump for sexual abuse and a separate defamation claim.)
In the classified documents case, Smith has said he hopes to pursue a “speedy trial,” but the complexity of the evidence involved — much of which remains classified — may lengthen the time it takes to resolve pretrial matters.
Among the issues still in flux: Trump’s own legal team. While he was accompanied Tuesday by Blanche and Kise, he’s been actively looking for additional attorneys since the core of his team handling the documents case resigned. Tim Parlatore quit the team last month amid internal dispute, and two other lawyers – John Rowley and Jim Trusty — resigned around the time of Trump’s indictment.
Outside the courthouse, the tension and theatricality built slowly throughout the day. Armed security personnel were visible all around the courthouse. There were several hundred protesters at the courthouse when Trump arrived, many expressing their support for the former president.
Trump supporters wore shirts backing Trump, saying that he will “give you a war you can’t believe” or “stomp my flag and I’ll stomp your face.” There were also people carrying signs reading “lock him up” and “Orange is the new Trump,” a reference to the Netflix show and memoir about a woman who goes to federal prison. At one point, a man draped in an American flag carried a large stick with a pig’s head impaled on it. Throughout the day, people drove past the courthouse honking horns.
The demonstrations were largely peaceful, with many shouting “we want Trump” when the former president’s motorcade arrived at the courthouse.
A Trump impersonator showed up, as did a man in an Uncle Sam getup who rode around on a hover board, singing remade lyrics to Elton John’s hit “Rocketman” saying that Biden is a “puppet man.”
Josh Gerstein and Andrew Atterbury reported from Miami. Kyle Cheney reported from Washington, D.C. Meridith McGraw contributed to this report.
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