Trump pleads not guilty to 37 charges in arraignment over classified US documents

Trump pleads not guilty to 37 charges in arraignment over classified US documents
Former US president Donald Trump visits the Versailles restaurant in the Little Havana neighbourhood after being arraigned at the Wilkie D Ferguson Jr United States Federal Courthouse on 13 June 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo: Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges that he mishandled top secret classified information and obstructed justice after leaving the White House.

Former US president Donald Trump appeared in a Miami court on Tuesday afternoon, following a historic indictment brought by the Justice Department alleging he wilfully mishandled top-secret government documents and conspired to stymie US officials’ efforts to recover them. 

Trump, who is making a comeback bid for the White House, is the first former president who has faced federal criminal charges. Trump, who appeared wearing a navy blue suit, white shirt and red tie, pleaded not guilty to all 37 counts against him. Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, entered the plea on his client’s behalf before the federal magistrate judge. 

“We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” Blanche said.

Trump appeared before US Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman. Following the initial hearing in Miami, the case will move to the West Palm Beach division of the Southern District of Florida federal district court; US District Judge Aileen Cannon has been assigned to preside going forward, barring a recusal fight.

Masks depicting Trump’s face are for sale outside of the Wilkie D Ferguson United States Courthouse. Trump is facing multiple federal charges stemming from an US Justice Department investigation led by Special Counsel Jack Smith related to Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified national security documents. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Justin Lane)

Prosecutors claim Trump kept highly sensitive papers at his Mar-a-Lago resort, some of which they say address nuclear programmes and military attack plans. The indictment accuses Trump of 31 counts of violating the Espionage Act, which carry prison sentences as long as 10 years. Other charges carry up to 20-year maximum terms. 

Trump is being represented by attorneys Todd Blanche and Chris Kise, at least for now. A person familiar with the situation told Bloomberg News that the former president is exploring other options to bring on Florida counsel.

Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for next year’s presidential race, has denied wrongdoing and assailed the case as politically motivated. He made a series of posts on his social media site in the hours leading up to his arraignment attacking the special prosecutor as a “thug”, “deranged”, a “Radical Right Lunatic and Trump Hater”, and he suggested evidence was planted.”

Ahead of the arraignment, Trump was taken into custody and had his fingerprints taken; he wasn’t required to have his mugshot taken, according to court officials.  

Trump has solicited campaign donations based on the indictments, including an email that was sent as he was travelling to the courthouse saying he could get 400 years in prison “despite being a totally and completely innocent man”. He also had a fundraiser at Bedminster on Tuesday night where advisers hoped to raise $2-million.

Read more: Trump’s own words play a star role in the case against him

Trump faces mounting legal threats as he pursues a second term. The federal case against him, brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, follows a New York state criminal case set for trial in Manhattan in March. That prosecution is over hush money payments made to a porn star just ahead of the 2016 election Trump won. He has pleaded not guilty and said it’s part of a larger political effort to take him down.

Trump also faces potential state charges in Georgia for allegations he interfered in the 2020 election result and federal charges related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump leads all other rivals for the 2024 GOP nomination by double-digit margins and has railed against the indictments as politically motivated “election interference” by Democrats bent on preventing him from returning to power. DM


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