In relation to his handling of confidential materials and alleged attempts to thwart the government from collecting them, former U.S. president Donald Trump entered a not guilty plea to 37 felony charges on Tuesday.
It is the first time a president of the United States has faced criminal charges.
He might be sentenced to a long prison term if proven guilty in this case.
Trump was brought in about 15 minutes before the hearing began and sat slumped over in his chair, hands clasped in his lap, as he waited for the judge to arrive, ABC News reported.
He looked down at the floor for most of the hearing and his lawyer waived a reading of the 49-page indictment.
- Special counsel Jack Smith sat in the front row watching Trump closely, but didn’t speak, CBS News reported.
“We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche told federal Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman, who oversaw the arraignment.
Trump was released on his own recognisance, wasn’t asked to surrender his passport and is still allowed to travel internationally, according to news reports.
Goodman ordered Trump not to discuss the case with his personal aide and co-defendant Walt Nauta or witnesses.
Trump, who is again seeking the Republican presidential nomination, was scheduled to return to his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Tuesday night for a private fundraiser, where he planned to deliver live remarks.
It was not immediately clear whether the date of his next hearing had been set.
After a year-long investigation, the Justice Department on Friday unsealed the indictment of the former president, charging that he improperly took classified documents when his presidency ended and obstructed the government’s efforts to retrieve hundreds of secret documents – some of them related to U.S. nuclear weapons operations and national defense vulnerabilities.
The indictment states that Trump kept them in unsecured areas of his Florida estate, including a bathroom, ballroom, and storage room.
The Mar-a-Lago property is a private club that hosts thousands of people each year.
According to the indictment, top-secret and other classified records the FBI recovered after a subpoena and a search of the property included details on U.S. and foreign nations’ nuclear and other defense and weapons capabilities, potential vulnerabilities of the U.S. and its allies to military attack, and plans for possible retaliation in response to such an attack.
The indictment also details two instances in which Trump discussed and showed classified documents to people who did not have security clearances.
Trump is charged with willful retention of national defense information, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding documents or records, corruptly concealing documents in a federal investigation, scheming to conceal, and making false statements and representations.
In a Truth Social post hours before his appearance, Trump called Smith a “thug” and accused him, his friends, and his family of planting evidence in the case.
Trump also questioned why Smith had not reviewed allegations against President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which Smith doesn’t have the authority to review.
Nauta faces charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding documents or records, corruptly concealing documents in a federal investigation, scheming to conceal, and making false statements and representations.
His arraignment was delayed for several weeks after he was unable to secure local counsel.
This is the second time this spring that Trump has been in court to enter a not-guilty plea.
He was indicted in New York City in March on charges related to an alleged hush money payment made to a porn actor in the final days of the 2016 campaign.
He also faces two ongoing criminal probes into his role in 2020 election interference.
The magistrate judge refused a request by media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, to allow photos and videos of the unprecedented proceedings.
Chief U.S. Judge for Southern District of Florida Cecilia Altonaga separately banned reporters from carrying any electronics into the courtroom.
Outside the courthouse, supporters of the former president chanted, “Free Donald Trump!” and “USA!” while waving “Make America Great Again” flags.
Opponents held up signs that read, “Trump, you are not above the law” and “31 counts of espionage; lock him up!” (tca/dpa/NAN)