Former President Donald J. Trump was on his way to Florida on Monday, one day before his first scheduled appearance in federal court in Miami on criminal charges of mishandling sensitive national security secrets and seeking to thwart government efforts to reclaim classified documents he had brought with him from the White House.
Mr. Trump plans to spend Monday night at his Doral resort in Miami, where he and his legal team will conduct last-minute interviews with attorneys to represent him in the case, before heading to federal court Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities in Miami were preparing for the possibility of large crowds of pro-Trump protesters on Tuesday. Mr Trump has called for peaceful demonstrations, but some of his supporters have described the charge, in an investigation led by Special Counsel Jack Smith, as an act of war and have called for retaliation.
The extraordinary event will be the former president’s second court appearance as a criminal defendant, following his indictment in April in a New York court on charges of forging corporate documents in connection with a secret payment to a short-lived porn star. before the 2016 election.
After the hearing, Trump, who has railed against the new charge, is expected to return to New Jersey. He has announced that he will give a speech at his golf club in Bedminster at 8.15pm on Tuesday.
Criminal defendants who are taken into custody prior to a first court appearance are often handcuffed, fingerprinted, and photographed for a mug shot. In April, however, New York authorities took only Trump’s fingerprints and did not handcuff or photograph him.
Mr. Trump’s case was assigned to Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who previously handled a lawsuit filed against the FBI court-sanctioned search of her Florida estate and club, Mar-a-Lago. That search came in August, after Mr. Trump failed to fully cooperate with a subpoena requiring him to return any documents with classification marks he still had.
Judge Cannon was appointed by Mr. Trump just days after he lost the election in November 2020. He surprised legal experts across the ideological divide last year by chiming in with various rulings favorable to Mr. Trump, halting the investigation of the documents until when a conservative appeals court chastised her, saying she never had the legal authority to intervene. His assignment to the prosecution was haphazard, the Southern District of Florida chief clerk said.
But it seems likely that Tuesday’s hearing will not be overseen by Judge Cannon but by a magistrate judge. Magistrate judges handle many of the routine and procedural aspects of court cases.
At the hearing, Trump is likely to remain silent next to his attorney until the judge gives him permission to speak. It’s also not yet clear whether Mr. Trump will return for an arraignment later or enter his expected not guilty plea on Tuesday to eliminate the need to return for that step.
In the Mar-a-Lago search, officers found 102 documents marked as classified. Mr. Smith charged Mr. Trump with 37 counts of unauthorized retention of national security information based on 36 of those documents, along with one that agents found had no markings and made some « military contingency plans » .
The indictment also describes a body of evidence to support prosecutors’ allegations that Mr. Trump knew he still had classified documents; he took steps with his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, to keep them from the government even after they were subpoenaed; and caused one of his lawyers to unwittingly lie to the Justice Department about the matter.
On Fox News Sunday, William P. Barr, Trump’s former attorney general who has fallen out of favor with Trump since he refused to falsely say the 2020 election was stolen, said Trump « was not a victim here. “Mr. Barr added that Mr. Trump appears to have engaged in “obvious obstruction” to retain highly sensitive documents that he had no right to retain.
Referring to the assessment of another conservative legal commentator, Andy McCarthy, Mr. Barr also said: “If even half of it is true, it’s toast. I mean, it’s a very detailed allegation and it’s very, very damning.