The former president has pleaded not guilty to 37 counts of obstruction, false statements, and mishandling of classified documents.
Former US president Donald Trump appeared in court in Miami, Florida, on Tuesday for an initial hearing after he was charged with mishandling government documents. Trump pleaded not guilty, and maintains that the 37-count indictment is a “Stalinist” attempt by President Joe Biden to sideline his leading political rival.
Trump’s motorcade arrived at the Wilkie D Ferguson courthouse on Tuesday afternoon, driving underground before he was arrested and arraigned. While en route to the court, Trump posted on his Truth Social platform: “One of the saddest days in the history of our country. We are a nation in decline!!!”
Small groups of the former president’s supporters and his opponents gathered outside the building, waving flags and placards. No violence or clashes were reported.
Trump entered a plea of not guilty, as was widely expected.
The charges against Trump were unsealed on Friday, following a months-long investigation led by the Justice Department’s special counsel, Jack Smith. The probe began with an FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last August, during which agents recovered boxes of government papers, some allegedly containing intelligence on foreign countries.
Trump is facing 31 counts of “willful retention” of classified documents under the Espionage Act, and six other counts including obstruction of justice and false statements. Violations of the Espionage Act carry up to 10 years in prison, while some of the obstruction charges carry up to 20.
The former president maintains that he did nothing wrong, and that he had the authority to declassify the documents before he took them to Florida from the White House. Speaking to supporters in Georgia on Saturday, Trump accused Biden of “trying to jail his leading political opponent, just like they did in Stalinist Russia or in Communist China.”
Trump, who is currently leading Biden in the most recent polls, described Smith as a “lawless partisan” leading a “political hit job” against him.
The Republican frontrunner has also pointed to President Joe Biden’s own mishandling of classified documents – boxes of which were found in multiple locations including his garage in Delaware earlier this year – as proof that he is being unfairly prosecuted.
Meanwhile, Trump is also facing state criminal charges in New York for allegedly falsifying business records, and is the subject of two criminal investigations: one concerning his alleged efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia, and the other focusing on his alleged role in instigating the January 2021 riot on Capitol Hill.