Friday, 19 July

Donald Trump pleads not guilty in arraignment over classified documents

World News
Donald Trump

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to historic charges of mishandling sensitive files at a federal court in Miami, Florida.

Mr Trump is the first US president - current or former - to be hit with a federal criminal indictment.

Arms crossed, in a dark suit and red tie, he sat in stone-faced silence for his second court appearance this year.

The Republican later travelled to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he addressed supporters.

Against a backdrop of American flags, Mr Trump, who is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, told the assembled crowd he had "every right" to hold the classified documents, but "hadn't had a chance to go through all the boxes".

He said he followed the law and went on to list series of unsubstantiated claims as well as grievances against President Joe Biden and his former rival Hillary Clinton.

Earlier in the day before leaving Miami, Mr Trump, on his social media platform Truth Social, thanked the city for "such a warm welcome on such a sad day for our country".

Just hours before, in a 13th floor room of a federal courthouse in downtown Miami, a sombre, subdued Mr Trump looked on while his lawyer entered a plea of not guilty on 37 counts of illegally retaining classified documents and obstructing the government's efforts to get them back.

"We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty," the attorney, Todd Blanche, told the judge.

Mr Trump's co-defendant, Walt Nauta - a close aide charged with six criminal counts in the case - was sitting at the same table as the former president.

On the opposite side of the room sat the entire prosecution team, including special counsel Jack Smith, who announced the indictment last week.

The former president, 76, was allowed to leave court without any restrictions to domestic or international travel. Prosecutors told Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman the defendant was not considered a flight risk.

But Mr Trump will not be allowed to discuss the case with Mr Nauta.

After the hearing, the Republican flashed supporters a thumbs up as his motorcade left the courthouse. As the drove away, an anti-Trump protester dressed in a prison jumpsuit ran into the street in front of the Trump motorcade before he was pushed away by security - perhaps the most unruly moment of a largely peaceful day.

Mr Trump and his security detail travelled directly to Versailles, a popular Cuban restaurant in Miami's Little Havana, where he was greeted by a throng of supporters who lined up for photos with the former president.

He appeared to take part in a prayer with some patrons, and was treated to a chorus of Happy Birthday to You, ahead of his 77th on Wednesday.

Alina Habba, a lawyer attorney for the former president, repeated the former president's claims that the charges were politically motivated as she addressed media outside court.

"We are at a turning point in our nation's history, the targeting prosecution of a leading political opponent is the type of thing you see in dictatorships like Cuba and Venezuela," she told reporters.

"What is being done to the President Trump should terrify all citizens of this country," she added.

Before the hearing, court officials said Mr Trump would not have a mugshot taken but would be digitally fingerprinted and asked to submit a DNA sample by swab.

A trial date has not yet been set, though the case is still earmarked for Aileen Cannon, a federal district judge in South Florida who was appointed by Mr Trump.

The charges, which were made public on Friday, came after FBI agents found more than 100 documents with classified markings at Mr Trump's private Florida estate Mar-a-Lago in August.

They allegedly contained information about the defence and weapons capabilities of both the US and foreign countries, as well as plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.

Prosecutors accuse him of hoarding the files, storing some in a ballroom and a bathroom, and of engaging in a conspiracy with an aide to obstruct the FBI's inquiry.

Mr Trump's legal troubles appear not to have diminished his support among Republican voters.

A poll by the BBC's US partner CBS found 76% of likely Republican primary voters were more concerned about the indictment being politically motivated than about the documents posing a national security risk.

Protocol dictates that the Department of Justice, the federal agency that enforces US law, should operate independently from the White House. Mr Biden, who is subject to a separate probe into his own handling of classified files, said last week: "I have never once - not one single time - suggested to the justice department what they should do."

Legal experts say the criminal charges could lead to substantial prison time if Mr Trump is convicted. He has vowed, however, to continue his campaign for president whatever the verdict.

Mr Trump's court appearance is his second in less than three months. He was arraigned in April in New York on charges that he falsified business records for a hush-money payment to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.