(ASSOCIATED PRESS) – Donald Trump made a first appearance in federal court in Miami on Tuesday facing 37 counts related to the mishandling and retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Here’s a look at the charges, the special counsel’s investigation and how Trump’s case differs from those of other politicians known to be in possession of classified documents:
WHAT HAPPENED IN COURT?
Trump’s lawyer entered a not-guilty plea for him, and the former president was released on his own recognizance without no bail. He will not have to surrender his passport or have his personal travel restricted.
He scowled at times during the 50-minute hearing, but was otherwise expressionless. He folded his arms, fiddled with a pen and crossed his fingers back and forth as he listened.
Trump leaned over to whisper to his attorneys before the hearing began but did not speak during the proceedings. He remained seated while his lawyer Todd Blanche stood up and entered the plea on his behalf. “We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” the lawyer told the judge.
Blanche objected to barring the former president from talking to witnesses, including his co-defendant, valet Walt Nauta, saying that they work for him and he needs to be able to communicate with them. After some back and forth, Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman said Trump cannot talk to them about the case except through his lawyers, but he can talk to them about their jobs.
Nauta was granted bond with the same conditions as Trump. He did not enter a plea because he does not have a local attorney. He will be arraigned June 27 before Chief Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres, but he does not have to be present.
Unlike Trump’s arraignment in New York, no photographs were taken because cameras aren’t allowed in federal court. There were, however, sketch artists, and theirs will be the only images from the actual courtroom appearance.
Security remained tight outside the building, but there were no signs of significant disruptions despite the presence of hundreds of protesters. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said on Fox News that there were no arrests or “major incidents.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
After the hearing, Trump was flying back to his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. He planned to hold a fundraiser and give a speech later Tuesday night.
Before heading to the airport, Trump’s motorcade took a detour to Versailles Restaurant in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, where a small crowd of supporters awaited him. Posing for photos and saying “food for everyone,” Trump commented briefly on his case.
“I think it’s going great,” he said. “We have a rigged country. We have a country that’s corrupt.”
Several religious leaders at the restaurant prayed over him for a moment.
WHAT ARE THE CHARGES?
Trump faces 37 counts related to the mishandling of classified documents, including 31 counts under an Espionage Act statute pertaining to the willful retention of national defense information. The charges also include counts of obstructing justice and making false statements, among other crimes.
Trump is accused of keeping documents related to “nuclear weaponry in the United States” and the “nuclear capabilities of a foreign country,” along with documents from White House intelligence briefings, including some that detail the military capabilities of the U.S. and other countries, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege Trump showed off the documents to people who did not have security clearances to review them and later tried to conceal documents from his own lawyers as they sought to comply with federal demands to find and return documents.
The top charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
HOW DID THIS CASE COME ABOUT?
Officials with the National Archives and Records Administration reached out to representatives for Trump in spring 2021 when they realized that important material from his time in office was missing.
According to the Presidential Records Act, White House documents are considered property of the U.S. government and must be preserved.
A Trump representative told the National Archives in December 2021 that presidential records had been found at Mar-a-Lago. In January 2022, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Trump’s Florida home, later telling Justice Department officials that they contained “a lot” of classified material.
That May, the FBI and Justice Department issued a subpoena for remaining classified documents in Trump’s possession. Investigators who went to visit the property weeks later to collect the records were given roughly three dozen documents and a sworn statement from Trump’s lawyers attesting that the requested information had been returned.
But that assertion turned out to be false. With a search warrant, federal officials returned to Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 and seized more than 33 boxes and containers totaling 11,000 documents from a storage room and an office, including 100 classified documents.
In all, roughly 300 documents with classification markings — including some at the top secret level — have been recovered from Trump since he left office in January 2021.
DIDN’T PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN AND FORMER VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE HAVE CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS, TOO?
Yes, but the circumstances of their cases are vastly different from those involving Trump.
After classified documents were found at Biden’s think tank and Pence’s Indiana home, their lawyers notified authorities and quickly arranged for them to be handed over. They also authorized other searches by federal authorities to search for additional documents.
There is no indication either was aware of the existence of the records before they were found, and no evidence has so far emerged that Biden or Pence sought to conceal the discoveries. That’s important because the Justice Department historically looks for willfulness in deciding whether to bring criminal charges.
A special counsel was appointed earlier this year to probe how classified materials ended up at Biden’s Delaware home and former office. But even if the Justice Department were to find Biden’s case prosecutable on the evidence, its Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that a president is immune from prosecution during his time in office.
As for Pence, the Justice Department informed his legal team earlier this month that it would not be pursuing criminal charges against him over his handling of the documents.
WHAT ABOUT HILLARY CLINTON?
In claiming that Trump is the target of a politically motivated prosecution, some fellow Republicans have cited the Justice Department’s decision in 2016 not to bring charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent in that year’s presidential race, over her handling of classified information.
Clinton relied on a private email system for the sake of convenience during her time as the Obama administration’s top diplomat. That decision came back to haunt her when, in 2015, the intelligence agencies’ internal watchdog alerted the FBI to the presence of potentially hundreds of emails containing classified information.
FBI investigators would ultimately conclude that Clinton sent and received emails containing classified information on that unclassified system, including information classified at the top secret level. Of the roughly 30,000 emails turned over by Clinton’s representatives, the FBI has said, 110 emails in 52 email chains were found to have classified information, including some top secret.
After a roughly yearlong inquiry, the FBI closed the investigation in July 2016, finding that Clinton did not intend to break the law. The bureau reopened the inquiry months later, 11 days before the presidential election, after discovering a new batch of emails. After reviewing those communications, the FBI again opted against recommending charges.
At the time, then-FBI Director James Comey condemned Clinton’s email practices as “extremely careless,” but noted that there was no evidence that Clinton had violated factors including efforts to obstruct justice, willful mishandling of classified documents and indications of disloyalty to the U.S.
DOES A FEDERAL INDICTMENT PREVENT TRUMP FROM RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT?
No. Neither the charges nor a conviction would prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.