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Trump pleads not guilty in federal classified documents case

Trump was indicted last week on 37 counts related to is alleged mishandling of the nation’s secrets.
/ Source: NBC News

A stone-faced former President Donald Trump entered a not guilty plea Tuesday to charges he lied and schemed to hold on to sensitive national security material that he was supposed to have surrendered when he left the White House. 

Trump, 76,  was indicted last week on 37 federal felony counts, including willful retention of national defense information, making false statements and representations, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Trump, wearing a blue suit and red tie, sat silently and had a not-guilty plea entered by his attorney during the brief proceeding before Magistrate Judge John Goodman. 

The bombshell case marks the first time in U.S. history that a former president has been charged with federal crimes — a test of the criminal justice system he once presided over in a politically-fraught prosecution.

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Trump had left his Doral resort shortly after 1:30 p.m. in a motorcade to the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. courthouse, where a small crowd of demonstrators had gathered outside. “On my way to courthouse. Witch hunt!!!” he wrote in an all-caps post on his social media platform, Truth Social.

Image: Former President Donald Trump boards an airplane in Newark, New Jersey, on June 10.
Former President Donald Trump boards an airplane in Newark, New Jersey, on June 10.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

The former president, who had struggled to find a local attorney after two members of his legal team resigned Friday, was represented in his initial appearance by attorney Todd Blanche and Chris Kise, Florida’s former solicitor general and an ally of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s main 2024 GOP rival, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Both traveled with Trump to the courthouse in his motorcade, a source close to Trump said.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and maintains he was entitled to the documents. He has said the prosecution was politically motivated and vowed to retaliate against President Joe Biden if re-elected.

“Now that the ‘seal’ is broken,” Trump wrote in all capital letters in a post on Truth Social earlier in the day, “ ... I will appoint a real special ‘prosecutor’ to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the USA, Joe Biden.”

Alina Habba, a Trump attorney who’s involved with his other cases, spoke to reporters outside of the courthouse and repeated the former president’s claims that politics was driving the prosecution, saying Trump is the Republican front-runner and it’s “less than a year and half before the election.”

“People in charge of this country do not love America. They hate Donald Trump,” Habba said.

Trump is not expected to make any public comments at the courthouse, and he is scheduled to deliver remarks at his estate in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Tuesday night. The event had originally been planned as a private fundraiser for his 77th birthday, which is Wednesday.

There was no mug shot of Trump during the booking process, a law enforcement source told NBC News, with an existing photo uploaded to the government’s secure booking database, which is not publicly accessible. He was also going to be electronically fingerprinted.

Trump will have to provide personal data such as his telephone number, address and Social Security number, as part of the process. His hand will also be scanned digitally, without the use of ink.

Miami Police Chief Manny Morales said Monday that the city was bracing for the possibility of thousands of protesters at the courthouse and has been coordinating with federal, state and local partners “to ensure that we maintain not only peace and order” but also the ability for demonstrators “to express themselves and their First Amendment rights.”

By the time of Trump’s arrival, however, the crowd was much smaller than anticipated.

Hundreds of spectators, journalists and activists gathered outside the courthouse earlier in the day, but only 20 will be allowed to enter the room for Trump’s appearance.

The indictment says that Trump’s claim to the documents expired the moment he left office but that he intentionally held on to top secret and other classified documents, in some instances for over a year and a half after he left office. It alleges that he kept a trove of classified documents even after he was hit with a subpoena for their return and that he misled his attorneys into believing they’d all been returned.

The documents “included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the U.S. and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for a possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” the indictment says.

He also treated that information cavalierly — at times keeping it on the stage in the ballroom at his Florida resort and in a bathroom next to a toilet, the filing alleges.

This image, contained in the indictment against former President Donald Trump, shows boxes of records stored in a bathroom and shower in the Lake Room at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump is facing 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents according to an indictment unsealed Friday, June 9, 2023. (Justice Department via AP)
An image in the indictment shows boxes of records stored in a bathroom and a shower in the Lake Room at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.Justice Dept. via AP

During the period Trump kept the documents around his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, the club “hosted more than 150 social events, including weddings, movie premieres and fundraisers that together drew tens of thousands of guests,” the indictment says.

It also disputes Trump’s claim that the documents were secured by his Secret Service detail, alleging agents had no idea the documents were there. “Trump did not inform the Secret Service that he was storing boxes containing classified documents at the Mar-a-Lago Club,” prosecutors said.

The court filing doesn’t elaborate on how prosecutors knew that to be the case. Sources familiar with the matter said last week that investigators had questioned about two dozen Secret Service agents.

Regardless, the filing notes, the agency is “not responsible for protecting Trump’s boxes or their contents.”

The indictment said disclosure of some of the documents’ contents “could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military and human sources, and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.”

Nauta is charged with helping Trump hide documents and with lying to investigators about his involvement with and knowledge of the boxes and their contents.

Nauta’s lawyer, Stan Woodward, has declined to comment on the charges against his client, who was a military valet in the Trump White House.

The jurist presiding over Tuesday’s proceeding, Magistrate Judge John Goodman, won’t oversee the case in a trial. Court officials said the case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who last year temporarily halted the FBI’s review of the documents that had been recovered at Mar-a-Lago.

Her ruling was overturned by a panel of appeals court judges who suggested Cannon had tried to “carve out an unprecedented exception in our law for former presidents.”

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