Former President Donald Trump is set to appear before a judge in Miami on Tuesday in a historic criminal case. He is accused of taking classified documents from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach after leaving office in January 2021, showing them to visitors, and attempting to hide them from investigators who demanded their return.
Trump is expected to surrender in court in Miami at around 3 p.m. ET, which will be the second time he has faced a judge in the criminal case since April. This is a historic event, as it is the first time a former President of the United States has been charged with federal charges.
As he has stated about all of his legal troubles, Trump insists that he has done nothing wrong and that this is a politically motivated persecution against him.
The former president will be formally charged with 37 counts of serious crimes, including deliberately withholding classified documents that prosecutors say could have endangered national security. He also faces a charge of espionage, which carries the possibility of a significant prison sentence.
The case has political implications for Trump, who is currently leading the campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential primaries. It also poses profound legal consequences in the face of the prospect of a possible conviction and years in prison.
This is a pivotal moment for the Department of Justice, which has never before brought federal charges against a former President. Attorney General Merrick Garland attempted to insulate the department from political attacks by handing the case to special judge Jack Smith, who recently said, "We have a set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone."
Trump has increased his rhetoric against prosecutor Jack Smith, whom he called "crazy," while repeating his unproven claims that he was the subject of a political persecution. He even promised that if elected to a second term, he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Biden and his family.
The court appearance takes place in the context of possible protests and disturbances, as some of Trump's supporters are planning to travel by bus to Miami from other parts of Florida. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city is prepared, and Police Chief Manuel A. Morales said the downtown area could see up to 50,000 protesters.
It is unclear who will defend Trump as the case progresses, as he seeks to hire additional lawyers following the departure of two lawyers who had been handling his defense for months. Under district rules, defendants are required to have a local attorney to proceed with an appearance.
The former president has scheduled a speech and fundraiser for Tuesday night at his Bedminster golf club in New Jersey.
"They're doing this because they can't win elections fairly," Trump said on Monday in an interview with American Media.
The court appearance is also taking place in the context of possible protests and disturbances. Trump himself has encouraged his supporters to join a protest planned for Tuesday at the Miami courthouse, where he is expected to surrender to authorities.
Some of Trump's supporters were also planning to travel by bus to Miami from other parts of Florida, so authorities are on high alert. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city is prepared, and Police Chief Manuel A. Morales said the downtown area could see up to 50,000 protesters.
As Trump's caravan slowed down entering his Doral resort on Monday, about 50 supporters cheered him on. The president gave them a thumbs-up gesture. Minutes earlier, a scuffle ensued when a man stood in front of the crowd with signs and a suit covered with a two-word phrase that negatively portrayed the former president. Supporters rushed him and several shouted at him before Doral police intervened and escorted him out.
A federal grand jury in Washington had heard testimony for months in the case of the classified documents, but the Department of Justice filed it in Florida, where Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort is located and where many of the alleged acts of obstruction of justice occurred.
Although Trump is scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Tuesday, the case has been assigned to a District Court judge appointed by him, Aileen Cannon, who ruled in his favor last year in a dispute over whether an outside special expert could be appointed to review the seized classified documents. A federal appeals panel ultimately overturned her ruling.
It is unclear who will defend Trump as the case progresses. He is expected to meet with advisors before his court appearance as he seeks to hire additional lawyers following the departure of two lawyers who had been handling his defense for months. Under district rules, defendants are required to have a local attorney to proceed with an appearance.
WHAT HE IS ACCUSED OF
The Department of Justice revealed on Friday the indictment of 37 serious charges, 31 of them related to intentionally withholding national defense information. Other charges include conspiracy to obstruct justice and false statements.
The indictment alleges that Trump intentionally withheld hundreds of classified documents that he took from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach after leaving the presidency in January 2021.
The files he kept in a bathroom, a ballroom, a bedroom, and a shower included material on nuclear programs, defense capabilities, and weaponry of the US and foreign governments, and a "Pentagon attack plan," the indictment says.
The information, if exposed, could have endangered members of the military, confidential sources, and intelligence collection methods, according to prosecutors.
In addition, prosecutors say he attempted to obstruct the government's efforts to recover the documents, among other things ordering his personal assistant Walt Nauta - also charged with Trump - to move boxes to hide them and also suggesting to his own lawyer that he hide or destroy the documents requested by a Department of Justice subpoena.