Trump pleads not guilty to classified documents charges

Scene could be similar if Trump indicted in Fulton
Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Miami International Airport June 12, 2023, in Miami, Florida. Trump is scheduled to appear Tuesday in federal court for his arraignment on charges including possession of national security documents after leaving office, obstruction, and making false statements. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Republican presidential candidate former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the Miami International Airport June 12, 2023, in Miami, Florida. Trump is scheduled to appear Tuesday in federal court for his arraignment on charges including possession of national security documents after leaving office, obstruction, and making false statements. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/TNS)

MIAMI — For the second time in as many months, former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to a set of criminal charges.

The Republican’s appearance at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. federal courthouse here on Tuesday came four days after the Justice Department unsealed a 38-count indictment that alleged that Trump had mishandled classified documents after leaving office.

Prosecutors contend Trump illegally took sensitive papers with him to his Florida estate when he left the White House and then obstructed efforts by authorities to get them back. Trump stashed the documents — which involved war plans and nuclear weaponry among other things— in a bathroom, a ballroom and his bedroom, the indictment charged. Trump is accused of violating a portion of the Espionage Act.

During his two-hour arrest and arraignment, Trump had his digital fingerprint taken and his birthdate and Social Security number recorded as part of the booking process. He reportedly did not have a mug shot taken.

The extraordinary event marked the first time in U.S. history that a former president was confronted in person with federal charges. Trump, who is currently vying for the GOP nomination for president, was also arraigned in a Manhattan courtroom in April on state charges related to hush money payments made to a porn star during his 2016 campaign.

This time, Trump entered his plea through his attorney, Todd Blanche.

”We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” Blanche told the magistrate judge overseeing the hearing, which Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith also attended.

Jack Smith, the special counsel, delivers remarks about the indictment of former President Donald Trump in Washington, June 9, 2023.  (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

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Earlier in the day, Trump called Smith a “thug” and a “lunatic” in social media posts.

U.S. Magistrate Jonathan Goodman did not place any travel restrictions on Trump or his co-defendant and personal aide, Walt Nauta, who traveled to the courthouse with Trump and sat near him at the defense table. Nauta did not enter a plea, requesting an extension on his arraignment to find local counsel.

Goodman ordered Trump not to speak to Nauta or witnesses about the facts of the case.

Later in the day, in a speech outside his Bedminster, N.J. club, a defiant Trump argued the Justice Department had been weaponized against him and said — falsely — that the Presidential Records Act gave him the right to retain the records he kept after his presidency.

The Espionage Act, he argued, “has nothing to do with a former president legally keeping his own documents.”

The scene outside

Outside, a few hundred Trump supporters, a small number of counter-protesters, cops and media mingled in the muggy sunshine.

Reporters appeared to vastly outnumber Trump supporters, including many from international and conservative media outlets. Many supporters of the former president donned Trump t-shirts, held signs and chanted messages of support, “U-S-A” and “Let’s go Brandon.” Others drove around the building with bullhorns and large flags.

Contributing to the circus-like atmosphere was far-right political activist Laura Loomer, who led a rendition of “happy birthday” to celebrate Trump turning 77 on Wednesday. A man dressed as Uncle Sam on stilts walked around the crowd, as did the mayor of Miami, who was surrounded by several dozen reporters. A man wearing a Cuban flag carried a wooden spear with a pigs head on it that held an American flag in its mouth.

Initially, law enforcement unfurled yellow police tape around the perimeter of the courthouse. Traffic was allowed to pass on three of the streets surrounding the building.

Miami Police watch over supporters of former President Donald Trump outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse while Trump was making his first court appearance inside in Miami, June 13, 2023. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

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Credit: NYT

As the afternoon proceeded, security tightened, especially around the garage entrance in which Trump eventually entered. A SWAT team with helmets and assault rifles was dispatched, and not long after Secret Service officers in suits appeared.

At 1:50 p.m., Trump’s motorcade, accompanied by a phalanx of sheriff’s deputies on motorcycles, pulled into the garage. Multiple helicopters hovered overhead as courthouse workers watched from the upper floors.

Media, Trump supporters and other onlookers captured the moment on their cell phones, while law enforcement rushed to turn away a counter-protester wearing an old fashioned black and white-striped prisoner costume who ran into the street.

Atlanta authorities taking notes

The scene in Miami provided clues for what could unfold in downtown Atlanta later this summer should Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis pursue charges against Trump for his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.

Florida’s political makeup, gun laws and security infrastructure are closer to Georgia’s than New York City’s.

Willis has heavily suggested she’ll seek an indictment against Trump in August. She alerted metro Atlanta law enforcement to be ready for “heightened security and preparedness” because her decisions might “provoke a significant public reaction.”

A representative from at least one branch of metro Atlanta law enforcement was on hand in Miami on Tuesday to study the extraordinary security scene, similar to what the Fulton Sheriff’s office did in Manhattan in April. A spokesperson for the Atlanta Police confirmed the department had sent a major to monitor the event. Spokespeople for other local and state agencies declined to comment or said they weren’t sending anyone.

Attendees speak out

Among the onlookers was Ron, a Trump supporter who declined to give his last name.

“It’s disgusting what they’re doing,” said Ron, who works in hospitality in the Naples, Fla., area. “China Joe Biden has got all those documents from when he was a senator and they’re not going after him. It’s a two-tiered system.”

A Broward County resident named Gordon said the federal charges were “made up.”

“There shouldn’t be any charges,” he said. “But that’s what they do when there’s other things happening to the other guy.”

                        Supporters of former President Donald Trump gather outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse in Miami, June 13, 2023. Donald J. Trump is set to become the first former president to be arraigned on federal charges when he appears in a Miami courtroom on Tuesday to face charges that he illegally retained national security documents after leaving office, obstructed efforts to retrieve them and made false statements about the matter. (Christian Monterrosa/The New York Times)

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The scene also drew its share of Trump opponents, including some who traveled from outside the state.

Dmitri, a New York social worker, was wearing a Ukrainian flag on his back and a shirt that read “Trump 20-24 years in prison.” He attended Trump’s arraignment in Manhattan this spring and plans to travel to Atlanta if Trump is ultimately charged in Fulton.

“I really want to hear more about how the other side sees things because I don’t understand it and probably never will,” he said. “But I think it’s important to try.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.