Former President Trump surrendered to authorities and was arraigned in a federal courthouse in Miami on charges related to the retention of classified documents after he left the Oval Office. Those documents were later found at his Mar-a-Lago home during an FBI search. As expected, Trump entered a not-guilty plea.
Cameras and photographers are not permitted in federal courtrooms, but the building was surrounded by media, heavy security, and fans waving Trump flags. He was accompanied by his son Eric Trump; former first lady Melania Trump did not join her husband for the trip to the courthouse.
Trump’s “body man,” Walt Nata, was arraigned alongside Trump. He is charged with six counts of mishandling documents.
The former president was fingerprinted but not handcuffed or photographed inside the courthouse, where he appeared before a federal magistrate of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Jonathan Goodwin.
He’s the first former president of the United States to be charged with the Espionage Act. He faces 37 counts of retaining classified documents and obstructing justice. Among other things, the indictment accuses Trump of knowingly showing Top Secret documents related to national security to a writer and publisher who did not have clearance to view them. It also alleges that he urged his attorney to hide and destroy documents related to the case.
Ahead of the proceedings, Trump decried the “witch hunt” he’s facing.
Constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley told Fox News that the charges have an “intent standard to harm national security or to help some foreign adversary.”
“Nobody is arguing that there’s evidence of harm to national security or an intent to do so,” he explained. “In fact, if you read the government’s indictment, it seemed to be latching on to a different motivation. In talking about that audio tape, they’re treating it sort of like a trophy that these documents were kept by the president out of vanity. Well, that may be true, but it then has a hard fit with an Espionage Act claim, and that’s the majority of these counts.”
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy said, “It’s irrelevant whether there was an intent to harm the United States or not. That’s not a defense to this charge. What the charge is is he was unauthorized to have it [the classified documents], he wilfully retained it, they demanded to have it back, and he refused. That’s the crime.”
Trump spokeswoman Alina Habba said outside the courthouse, “The decision to pursue charges against President Trump while turning a blind eye to others is emblematic of the corruption that we have here.”
“We are at a turning point in our nation’s history. The targeting and prosecution of a leading political opponent is the type of thing you see in dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela. It is common there for rival candidates to be prosecuted, persecuted, and put in jail,” she added. “What is being done to President Trump should terrify all citizens in this country. These are not the ideals that our democracy is founded upon. This is not our America.”
Asked by a reporter how Trump was feeling, she replied, “He’s defiant.”
Trump is expected to return to his Bedminster, N.J., golf course to attend an event scheduled for this evening.