Donald Trump pleads not guilty to 37 felony counts in classified documents case

The former president, who is accused of seven federal crimes, appeared in federal court in Miami on charges related to his handling of classified information at his Mar-a-Lago estate

El expresidente de EE UU Donald Trump llegaba este martes al tribunal de Miami (Florida).
Former president Donald Trump leaves his Trump National Doral resort, on June 13, 2023, in Doral, Florida.Jim Rassol (AP)
Iker Seisdedos

The usually unpredictable Donald Trump played his role perfectly in Miami this Tuesday, on yet another historic day in his life. Appearing before federal Judge John Goodman at a courthouse in downtown Miami, the former president and current presidential candidate listened to the 37 felony counts he faces over his handling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. As expected, he pleaded not guilty to the seven federal crimes that he is accused of committing, which carry a total sentence of up to 400 years of jail time, though it is highly unlikely that he will face such a sentence. He is the first American president — current or former —to go through such a process, and it is the second time in a few months that he has been arraigned.

A caravan of black armored vehicles covered the 11 miles that separate the courthouse from the golf course resort he owns in the nearby town of Doral, where he spent the night. He arrived for his arraignment at about 1:50 p.m., 70 minutes early. Trump entered an underground parking garage, before heading up to the floor where the judge was waiting for him. The day before the arraignment, Judge Goodman denied permission for any photographing or filming of the process. Some 20 select individuals were allowed into the courtroom, and another 350 — mostly journalists — followed the process on some televisions set up in an auxiliary space of the building.

Within minutes of entering the courthouse, Trump was arrested. Once again. He had his fingerprints taken, but no mugshot. The Department of Justice preferred to avoid the risk of an image of the former president while under arrest leaking and becoming an icon for all those who believe that all of this is an act of political persecution.

A grand jury must now decide whether Trump is guilty of knowingly withholding information that is sensitive to national defense, withholding and concealing confidential papers from federal investigators, forgery and conspiring to obstruct justice for one of his employees, Walt Nauta, who was also summoned this Tuesday and was arrested shortly after Trump. The two dined together on Monday night.

District Court Judge Aileen Cannon has been chosen to oversee the historic case. As the presiding judge, Cannon will resolve an array of pretrial disputes, ranging from jury-selection procedures to the timing of a trial to the validity of the case itself. Trump named her to the bench in 2020. Last fall, she made a ruling that was favorable to the former president’s defense, which was later reviewed and annulled by an appeals court.

The charges against Trump are contained in a detailed 49-page file that was made public last Friday. It details life in Mar-a-Lago — both a resort and the president’s residence — and the comings and goings of a hundred boxes containing some 13,000 documents. 300 of these were classified files which Trump took with him after leaving the White House, even though, by law, they belong to the National Archives. They were being kept at his Palm Beach residence until an FBI search was conducted on August 8 of 2022, after the former president repeatedly refused to return them to authorities.

A speedy trial?

In a few months, the president — who is the only president in American history who has faced two impeachment attempts while in office — will face yet another judicial proceeding. Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is in charge of the investigation, promised a “speedy trial” last week. However, everything indicates that the process will be delayed until the country is fully emerged in the 2024 presidential campaign.

Trump has confirmed that he doesn’t intend to step down from his presidential aspirations. U.S. law allows him to continue his campaign and, according to polls of Republican voters, he is on track to win his party’s nomination. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that his campaign will become a two-track circus, split between rallies and court appearances.

La caravana que trajo a Donald Trump al tribunal federal de Miami, a su llegada al palacio de justicia del centro de la ciudad.
The motorcade that brought Donald Trump to the federal courthouse in Miami, upon his arrival at the downtown courthouse.Marta Lavandier (AP)

This isn’t Trump’s only open case against him. In addition to other investigations that are about to materialize regarding his alleged involvement in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, or for allegedly having attempted to alter the results of the 2020 elections (he still refuses to admit that he lost to Joe Biden), Trump was already indicted once this past April in New York. He pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges related to alleged illicit payments that he made during the 2016 presidential elections (which he won) to porn actress Stormy Daniels, in order to buy her silence about an extramarital affair. His trial is expected to begin on March 25, 2024.

The atmosphere in the vicinity of the federal court in Miami became livelier Tuesday morning, after several days in which the area was only occupied by a legion of journalists, who came from all over the world to cover a historical accusation. The city has braced for the worst: Miami-Dade Mayor Francis Suárez — a Republican – said that municipal authorities would be ready to handle a mass gathering of Trump supporters, of up to 50,000. However, no such number turned up. Overall, about 500 Trump loyalists gathered in downtown Miami on Tuesday.

The Trumpists far outnumbered the former president’s detractors, however. The dynamic was reminiscent of what happened on the streets of New York back in April. Back then, Trump had warned that his summons would bring about echoes of the disastrous events of January 6, 2021, the day that the Capitol was attacked by a mob of his fans. However, in New York, the rallies were mostly peaceful, and participation was low. This Tuesday, armed with megaphones, cell phones at the ready to record everything and dressed in extravagant costumes, his fanatics mostly tried to get the media’s attention.

Miami certainly isn’t New York. Trumpism has developed robust roots in Florida over the past seven years. His acolytes have regularly gathered outside his mansion in Mar-a-Lago — the alleged scene of the crime — and, after the most recent indictment became known on Monday, a handful of his supporters gathered to receive him at the Trump National hotel in Doral, in Miami-Dade County, after he flew in from Newark Liberty International Airport.

After appearing before the federal judge in Miami, Trump is scheduled to board his private plane again for New Jersey, where he has spent the last few days in another of his sumptuous residences with a golf course. At 8:15 p.m. EST in Bedminster, New Jersey, he will turn a private event — which he had previously scheduled with donors — into a press conference, where he will react to the latest news regarding his case. The former president turns 77 on Wednesday, June 14.

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