Trump has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of illegally possessing classified documents

MIAMI (AP) — Donald Trump In a Miami courtroom on Tuesday, he became the first former president to face a judge on federal charges as he pleaded not guilty to dozens of felony counts accused of hoarding classified documents and refusing government requests to return them.

A history-making court date centers around allegations Trump mishandled the government secrets he was responsible for protecting as commander-in-chief, kickstarting a legal process that will unfold at the height of the 2024 presidential campaign. and has profound consequences not only for his political future but also for his own freedom.

Trump has approached his case with characteristic bravado, posting social media rants against the prosecution from inside his motorcade en route to court and insisting — as he has endured years of legal woes — that he has done nothing wrong and is being persecuted for political purposes. But inside the courtroomHe sat silently, arms crossed, while a lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf that ended without surrendering his passport or restricting his travel.

The case, though largely procedural, is the latest in an unprecedented reckoning this year for Trump, who has faced allegations of payments in New York during the 2016 presidential campaign and ongoing investigations. Attempts to overturn results of 2020 races in Washington and Atlanta

Always in campaign mode, he stopped on his way out of Miami and quickly made his way from a solemn courtroom to a festive restaurant. At the Cuban landmark Versailles in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood, supporters wished Trump, who turned 77, “Happy Birthday.” The follow-up events highlight Trump’s tension in the coming months as he balances the campaign with the courtroom with his status as a twice-indicted criminal defendant.

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Yet the gravity of the moment was unmistakable.

Until last week, no former president had been indicted by the Justice Department, let alone accused of mishandling highly classified information. The charge sheet was released last week The 37 felony charges against Trump — many under the Espionage Act — accuse Trump of illegally storing classified documents in his bedroom, bathroom, bathroom and elsewhere at Mar-a-Lago and trying to hide them from the Justice Department as requested by investigators. Again. If convicted, the charges carry a prison sentence of several years.

Trump is relying on a familiar playbook that portrays himself as a victim of political persecution. He blasted the Justice Department’s special counsel who filed the suit as a “thug” and “confusion,” vowed to stay in the tournament no matter what and addressed supporters Tuesday night at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf club, where he spoke roughly. The half-hour speech was full of repeated lies and inflammatory rhetoric and threatened to go after President Joe Biden and his family if elected.

“The seal is broken by what they have done. They should never have done this,” Trump said of the accusation.

But Attorney General Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s appointee, tried to insulate the department from political attacks last November by handing over ownership of the case to special counsel Jack Smith. This country is for everyone.”

Smith attended Tuesday’s hearing, sitting in the front row behind his team of lawyers.

The court appearance played out against anger over potential protests, with some high-profile supporters using barbed wire rhetoric to voice support. Although city officials said they were prepared for potential unrest, there were few signs of significant disruption.

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During his court appearances, Trump rarely turned and said nothing except to whisper to the lawyers seated on either side of him. He fiddled with a pen and folded his hands on the table in front of him as lawyers and judges debated the terms of his release.

Although he was not required to surrender his passport — prosecutors said he was not considered a flight risk — the magistrate judge presiding over the hearing instructed Trump not to discuss the case with some witnesses. This includes his partner, Walt Nauta He was accused last week of moving boxes of documents at Trump’s direction and misleading the FBI about them.

Nauta did not enter a plea Tuesday because he did not have a local attorney with him.

Trump attorney Todd Blanch has opposed the idea of ​​imposing restrictions on the former president’s contact with potential witnesses, including many close to Trump, staffers and members of his security detail.

“Many of the people he interacts with on a daily basis — including the men and women who protect him — are potential witnesses in this case,” Blanche said.

Trump, who has repeatedly insisted he has done nothing wrong, showed no emotion as he was escorted out of the courtroom through a side door by law enforcement.

Even for a man whose presidency and post-White House career were defined by criminal investigations, the dossier investigation has long stood out because of the volume of evidence prosecutors appeared to have amassed and the seriousness of the allegations.

A federal grand jury in Washington heard evidence for months, but the Justice Department filed the suit in Florida, where Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort is located and where many of the foreclosure actions took place.

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Although Trump appeared before a federal magistrate on Tuesday, the case has been assigned to his appointee, District Court Judge Eileen Cannon., ruled in his favor last year in a dispute over whether to appoint an outside special master to review seized classified documents. A federal appeals panel eventually overturned his conviction.

It’s unclear what protections Trump will receive as the case moves forward. The morning after his indictment, two of his lead lawyers announced their resignations, and another lawyer, M. Notes and Reminiscences of Evan CorcoranQuoted repeatedly throughout the 49-page charging document, prosecutors consider him a key witness.

The indictment on Friday accused Trump of illegally possessing national security documents he took with him from the White House to Mar-a-Lago after he left office in January 2021. Prosecutors say the capabilities of US and foreign governments and the Pentagon “planned to attack.” He was accused of showing some to people without security clearance.

Beyond that, according to the indictment, he repeatedly tried to thwart government efforts to retrieve documents, including directing Nauta to move boxes and instructing his own attorney to hide or destroy documents requested by a Justice Department subpoena.

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Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Bedminster, New Jersey and Terry Spencer, Kate Brumback, Kurt Anderson and Joshua Goodman in Miami contributed to this report.

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Investigations on Donald Trump: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump

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