Jacob Fischler, Rhode Island Current
Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty in federal court in Miami on Tuesday to 37 felony counts of taking highly classified national security documents from his time in office and obstructing efforts to recover the documents, according to media reports from inside the courtroom.
Trump, the first former president charged with a federal crime, remains the leading contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2024 even as he faces at least two prosecutions. No trial date has been set in the Florida case.
A crowd of supporters gathered outside of the Miami courthouse Tuesday, holding Trump campaign flags and signs of support. Trump waved from his vehicle as he left the courthouse. Secret Service agents subdued a protestor dressed as a prisoner who tried to accost the vehicle.
Trump stopped at a café to meet with supporters after the court hearing.
He was scheduled to hold a campaign event at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club Tuesday evening.
U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, indicated he would join the event, saying on Twitter he would be “standing right next to President Trump tonight in total support.”
Tuberville missed a 50-49 procedural vote in the Senate Tuesday to advance the nomination of Jared Bernstein as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. Tuberville included in his tweet a request for supporters’ email addresses.
Trump continued his public schedule after the federal indictment was unsealed on Friday, appearing in Georgia and North Carolina over the weekend.
According to the indictment, Trump schemed with an aide to keep possession of top secret and other sensitive national security documents from his presidency and concealed those documents — even from his own lawyers — to avoid a court order to return them.
A federal grand jury did not charge Trump for his initial taking of the documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate and private club. Instead, the charges stem from Trump retaining 102 documents with classification markings, which federal authorities recovered only through an FBI raid.
After months of the National Archives and Records and Administration asking for Trump’s White House records and a federal grand jury subpoena, Trump relinquished a total of 235 documents, according to the indictment.
Trump directed personal aide Waltine Nauta to move dozens of boxes of documents to avoid detection from his own lawyers, prosecutors said. He then falsely told the grand jury he’d turned in everything that had been asked of him, according to the indictment.
Later he showed at least three people classified documents, which he described as classified and said he could get in trouble for disclosing, according to the indictment.
Trump has also been charged with — and pleaded not guilty to — state charges in New York alleging that he falsified business records by using campaign funds to pay hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. A state judge set a March 2024 trial date for that case.
U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon is overseeing the federal case in the Southern District of Florida, though U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman presided over Tuesday’s arraignment.
Trump appointed Cannon to the federal bench, and she has previously ruled in Trump’s favor when he requested an independent special master to review the documents FBI agents took from his South Florida estate in an August 2022 search.
Cannon faced criticism for that ruling, which was later overturned by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, declined to comment on Trump’s case when asked by reporters Tuesday, saying he was staying out of the presidential race.
“I’m just simply not going to comment on the candidates,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of them and I’m just simply going to stay out of it.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also declined to address the charges directly, saying that the case should proceed without interference from politicians.
“In terms of the Trump indictment, no one’s above the law, including Donald Trump,” he said. “There ought to be no political or ideological interference as the case moves forward.”
Other Democrats made similar remarks that Trump should be treated like a common defendant and was entitled to his day in court.
Colorado U.S. Rep. Ken Buck was among the few congressional Republicans to say a conviction should disqualify Trump for the White House.
In an appearance on CNN, Buck noted that in 2016, Trump called his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, unfit for office because of her alleged mishandling of classified information as secretary of state.
“His words have set the standard that America will look at to see if he is fit for president,” Buck told CNN’s Dana Bash. “He’s innocent until proven guilty. After the trial, if he is convicted of these charges … I certainly won’t support a convicted felon for the White House.”
GOP rallies to Trump defense
On his way to the courthouse Tuesday, Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media platform, that the prosecution was a “WITCH HUNT,” a term he has used for the several investigations into his potential misconduct.
“ONE OF THE SADDEST DAYS IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY,” he wrote. “WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE!!!”
Many congressional Republicans have rallied to Trump’s defense, echoing his witch hunt claim that President Joe Biden, a Democrat who defeated Trump in the 2020 election and is running for re-election in 2024, was targeting a political opponent.
“Let’s be clear about what’s happening: Joe Biden is weaponizing his Department of Justice against his own political rival,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, tweeted.
Others have said the U.S. Justice Department was holding Trump to a higher standard than Biden, who self-reported improperly storing classified documents from his time as vice president and U.S. senator from Delaware.
“We have a sitting president who possessed classified documents dating back decades to his time as vice president and as a senator. Yet he is now weaponizing the federal government to go after his leading political opponent,” U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said. “Where is the equal justice under the law?
But Biden — and Mike Pence, the vice president under Trump — returned classified documents once they were discovered. The federal indictment, led by Special Counsel Jack Smith, alleges Trump intentionally held onto documents he knew were classified.
States Newsroom Washington senior reporter Ashley Murray contributed to this report.
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