Former United States’ President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to dozens of criminal counts of willfully mishandling US government secrets and scheming to prevent their return, in a historic first appearance in federal court yesterday.
Trump dismissed his prosecution as politically-motivated in a speech to supporters, framing the indictment as an effort to interfere in the 2024 election.
"Today we witnessed the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country. Very sad thing to watch," Trump said after returning to his summer residence in New Jersey following the arraignment in Miami.
It was the former president's second arraignment as he battles a deluge of legal threats, coming just 10 weeks after he was charged in Manhattan over campaign fund irregularities regarding hush money payments to a porn star.
In his speech, Trump blamed President Joe Biden for his prosecution.
"A corrupt sitting president had his top political opponent arrested on fake and fabricated charges - of which he and numerous other Presidents would be guilty - right in the middle of a presidential election, in which he's losing very badly," said Trump, speaking from the front of the clubhouse, at a podium flanked by American flags.
Trump appeared before a judge in Miami and was formally presented with 37 charges brought by the government following a special counsel probe that opened after an FBI raid of his Florida mansion last August.
"We are certainly entering a plea of not guilty," Todd Blanche, his attorney, told the hearing.
The US government accused Trump - who is vying to win back the White House next year - of violating the Espionage Act and other laws when he removed classified documents upon leaving office and failed to give them up to the National Archives.
Authorities say he conspired to thwart investigators and knowingly shared national security secrets with people who did not have the requisite clearance.
Trump appeared before US Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman, who said that the former president could remain free pending trial. He won't face any travel restrictions.
Goodman directed Trump to not discuss the case with any witnesses. The move caused tension in the courtroom between the judge and Trump's lawyer Blanche, who complained the restrictions were overly broad. The government agreed to alert the defense to a list of people, including Trump employees and Secret Service agents that the former President should not discuss the case with.
Miami officials were preparing for large scale protests, and police ramped up security but only a few dozen Trump supporters were seen near the courthouse.
Some wore ‘Make America Great Again’ baseball caps and one with a sign reading ‘Indict Jack Smith’ - the special prosecutor who brought the charges.
The runaway frontrunner in the 2024 Republican primary has vowed to stay in the race regardless of the outcome of the documents case.
The 49-page indictment, dismissed by Trump as "ridiculous," includes photographs showing boxes of documents stacked at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach residence, in a ballroom and in a bathroom and shower.
Trump, who leads the Republican race for president by more than 30 points, was impeached twice over allegations of misconduct in office and was recently found liable for sexual abuse in a civil trial in New York.
He faces indictment or ongoing scrutiny in four criminal probes - in Washington, Florida, Georgia and New York - and could find himself on trial in multiple cases as he campaigns to return to the White House.
The pugnacious billionaire, who turns 77 on Wednesday, continues to defend and even praise the rioters who ransacked the Capitol to halt the certification of the 2020 election, and has promised pardons for many if he is reelected.