MIAMI—Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty in a federal court in Miami on June 13 to 37 felony charges related to his handling of classified government documents.
Trump and his Republican supporters have decried the charges as politically motivated, while others see them as evidence that no one is above the law.
The plea marks the latest step in a years-long legal battle between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the former president, one that now has serious implications for the 2024 presidential race, in which Trump is the leading Republican candidate.
The ArraignmentTrump arrived at the federal courthouse in Miami more than an hour before his scheduled 3 p.m. arraignment. The case is the first time a former president of the United States has been formally accused of violating federal law.
Trump was placed under arrest. Court staff collected his fingerprints electronically. The president wasn't photographed. The booking took about 10 minutes.
A crowd of several hundred people, mostly Trump supporters, gathered among the rows of palm trees in the court plaza. A large number of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers were also present.
During the arraignment, which lasted about 35 minutes, Trump appeared calm and composed in his trademark blue suit and red tie.
Trump appeared before Duty Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman, flanked by attorneys Todd Blanche, a former federal prosecutor, and Christopher Kise.
A handful of citizen spectators were seated in the courtroom. The gallery was mostly filled with reporters chosen at random from a large number of journalists on site and three sketch artists.
The indictment alleges that Trump unlawfully retained 31 government documents, including some classified as top secret.
The documents included “information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” according to the indictment.
The indictment also alleges that Trump showed classified documents to others twice in 2021, a potential violation of the federal Espionage Act.
The most serious charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
When asked to enter a plea, Blanche spoke on behalf of his client: “We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty.”
Trump has steadfastly maintained his innocence, calling the charges “a travesty of justice,” “election interference,” and a “witch hunt.”
Timeline of the CaseThe case centers on a chain of events that began more than two years ago with a request by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for the return of government records. It eventually led to the execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, the appointment of a special prosecutor, and the June 8 indictment of the former president.
On May 6, 2021, NARA requested records from Trump, believing that a number of government documents were missing. In December 2021, a Trump representative told NARA that about a dozen boxes of presidential records had been located at Mar-a-Lago and that staffers were searching for more.
In January 2022, Trump’s representatives provided 15 boxes of documents to the NARA.
In February 2022, NARA said it had found “items marked as classified national security information” among the Trump documents. In April 2022, the White House Counsel’s Office asked that the NARA provide the FBI access to the 15 Mar-a-Lago boxes. The FBI later said that agents found 67 documents marked “confidential,” 92 marked “secret,” and 25 marked “top secret.”
Trump, who hadn't conceded the 2020 presidential race, maintained that he had declassified the materials.
In June 2022, Trump attorneys provided NARA with another 38 documents with classification markings, including five documents marked “confidential,” 16 marked “secret,” and 17 marked “top secret." Trump’s representatives attested at the time that, following a diligent search, they believed that no other classified materials remained at Mar-a-Lago.
In August 2022, FBI agents served a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in what many describe as a raid on the former president’s home. Agents seized 36 items containing about 100 classified records. The DOJ later asserted that classified materials were “likely concealed and removed” from a Mar-a-Lago storage room to obstruct the investigation.
Trump announced his 2024 presidential campaign on Nov. 15, 2022. The DOJ appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the investigations against Trump three days later.
Trump announced on social media on June 8 that his lawyers had informed him of the indictment against him.
Trump UnfazedTrump returned to the campaign trail two days after announcing the indictment. Addressing supporters in Columbus, Georgia, the former president took the offensive against both the DOJ and President Joe Biden.
“The ridiculous and baseless indictment by the Biden administration’s weaponized Department of Injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country,” he told a crowd of about 3,000 people who filled the GOP convention venue to capacity on June 10.
Trump and others allege that his indictment was timed to divert attention from an emerging alleged bribery scandal centering on Biden—information that House Republicans are prying from the FBI.
“Biden is trying to jail his leading political opponent, just like they do in Stalinist Russia or communist China,” Trump told the audience.
Trump pointed to the fact that Biden also possessed classified documents from his time as a U.S. senator.
“Biden didn’t have any authority and he had no right to possess those documents,” Trump said. “Yet nothing happened to ‘Crooked Joe.’”
Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence both voluntarily surrendered classified documents they discovered among their papers to the federal government last year.
Politicians ReactMost Republican politicians view the indictment as a political attack against Trump.
“It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wrote on Twitter.
Contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination generally took the same tack, denouncing the DOJ rather than Trump, their political opponent.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis decried the "weaponization of federal law enforcement." Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said the American people are "exhausted by prosecutorial overreach."
Only former Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas criticized Trump over the indictment.
Christie said in a June 9 interview on Fox News that Trump’s wounds were “self-inflicted.”
“That's weight that Donald Trump will have to carry if he's the nominee into a general election in November. And why do we want to take that risk?” Christie said.
Democrats viewed the indictment as evidence that the U.S. justice system is working.
The Road AheadTrump was released on his own recognizance at the request of the prosecution. Most pretrial release conditions were waived.
Goodman imposed an order prohibiting Trump from speaking with any witnesses or victims except through their attorneys. The judge made an exception for witnesses with whom Trump has regular contact, including his co-defendant and employee, Walt Nauta. In those cases, the judge prohibited Trump from discussing the case.
Legal experts believe the Trump defense team will attempt to draw out the proceedings for as long as possible.
For Trump, the 2024 campaign continues. Even if convicted of the charges, no law prevents him from running for or winning the presidency.
After leaving the courthouse, Trump's motorcade stopped at a Cuban restaurant named Versailles, where he met with supporters. Several of the patrons prayed with him. Others sang happy birthday ahead of the former president's June 14 birthday.
Trump told the crowd, "Food for everyone."
The former president also lamented the state of the nation, saying: "We have a country that is in decline, and we can't let that happen."