PALM BEACH, Fla.–Former President Donald Trump and a personal aide are expected to appear in a Miami courtroom on Tuesday to face historic federal charges.
Both Trump and Walt Nauta, a U.S. Navy petty officer who had been assigned as Trump’s valet during his presidency, are accused of conspiring to hide Trump’s alleged illegal retention and handling of classified records.
Their appearances are set for 3 p.m. in a Miami federal courthouse. Throngs of media and protesters—both for and against Trump—are expected to gather, just as they did for his indictment on state business records charges two months ago in New York.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in that case and is also expected to deny the charges in Florida. Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee, will preside.
Trump’s arraignment in Miami comes a day before his 77th birthday.
Because of his age, Trump could pass away in prison if convicted of even a single one of the 37 charges lodged against him, legal expert Jonathan Turley warned.
Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 or 20 years in prison.
The Miami indictment (pdf) was unsealed on June 8, a day after Trump announced that his lawyers had been informed about it.
The two separate indictments—the first to transform a former U.S. president into a criminal defendant—have drawn worldwide attention and stirred American political debate to fever pitch, while current President Joe Biden also remains under investigation.
Special Counsel Robert Hur is investigating Biden’s possession of sensitive government documents from his era as vice president as well as from his time in the Senate. The Republican-led House Oversight Committee is also probing an alleged $5 million bribe paid to Biden while he served as vice president.
Stronger or Weaker?
Despite being twice-impeached and twice-indicted, Trump has continually declared his determination to win the 2024 election and “Make America Great Again,” his oft-repeated campaign slogan since 2015.
In public appearances at Republican Party conventions in Georgia and North Carolina over the weekend, Trump denounced the latest accusations as more evidence that he is a target of political prosecutions and a “weaponized” American justice system.
Trump is the current frontrunner to become the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Some say the indictments have strengthened Trump politically because of a backlash against the continued attacks on him.
Others say the move was calculated by his political foes to hobble his presidential run, and they worry that voters may shy away from such an embattled candidate.
However, Trump’s critics say he has drawn controversy—and these charges—by his own actions, and that Americans ought to be concerned about his ability to lead the nation as a result.
Packed Crowd Cheers, Sings
On June 12, hours before Trump’s scheduled court appearance, a chorus of 1,000 people in Palm Beach County, near Trump’s Florida home, sang “Happy Birthday” to Trump as video cameras rolled.
Called Club 47 USA, the group remains confident that Trump will win the 2024 election and become the nation’s 47th president.
Speaking to a packed house at the Hilton Palm Beach Airport, political strategist Dick Morris recounted a recent conversation he had with Trump. He said the former president declared, “I’m gonna fight to the end.” But Morris said he retorted, “No, sir, you’ll fight to the beginning of your second term!” The audience cheered loudly.
Then Morris suggested that Trump, known for making up derisive nicknames, ought to refer to the Democrat president as “Joe Bribin,’” because of the simmering bribery scandal.
Morris defended Trump by saying that there was no criminal intent on Trump’s part and there was no harm done to national security as a result of Trump’s handling of the records.
Morris introduced Kari Lake as the keynote speaker, and said he’d like to see her run for U.S. Senate or as Trump’s vice presidential running mate.
Lake, who also spoke on Trump’s behalf in Georgia over the weekend, said, “They’re trying to bring Trump down because they know that he has caught them in the most heinous crimes ever.”
Many attendees said they were driving to Miami for Trump’s court appearance, and Lake said she would join them in their show of support for Trump.
“If you can’t make it, I encourage you to say a prayer,” she said.
She encouraged everyone to stand up for what’s right. “They can’t arrest all of us,” Lake said.
New Jersey Site Involved
During the proceedings in Miami, news crews are forbidden from shooting photographs or video footage. But Trump is slated to give post-court-appearance remarks at 8:15 p.m. ET at The Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
That’s the site where, according to the indictment, Trump improperly disclosed classified information to people who had no security clearance. Two such incidents occurred in the summer of 2021, several months after he left the White House.
One of the alleged disclosures happened during an audio-recorded meeting with “a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff,” the indictment says.
During that conversation, Trump stated he “could have declassified” the document as president, but “now I can’t,” according to the indictment.
Trump also allegedly made a disclosure to a member of his political action committee during a conversation at Bedminster.
The former president caused “scores of boxes,” containing “hundreds of classified documents” to be transported to the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where Trump lives and hosts thousands of guests a year. Some of the records were also moved to Bedminster.
Trump was “personally involved” in the document-movement process, the indictment says. His co-defendant, Nauta, allegedly assisted with ensuring that some of the records were moved while an investigation was ongoing.
Documents in Odd Locations
Boxfuls of the records were, at times, stored in “a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room” at Mar-a-Lago, the indictment says.
Photographs and transcripts of text messages between unidentified Trump staffers are incorporated into the indictment to support the allegations.
The indictment also references communications “memorialized” by a Trump attorney, including statements such as, “I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes,” and, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”
At a speech in Georgia on June 10, Trump pointed out that a photograph also shows that the boxes were sitting on a sidewalk in front of the White House, ready for transport to Mar-a-Lago.
He said this proves there was no attempt to sneak away with records he wasn’t supposed to have. He also says that, as president, he had the power to declare records declassified.
The Miami indictment comes more than a year after the FBI began investigating Trump for his handling of classified documents.
Trump has repeatedly stated the Secret Service agents stand guard over him, as they do all former U.S. presidents. But the indictment says the Secret Service isn’t responsible for protecting documents.
Further, “Trump did not inform the Secret Service that he was storing boxes containing classified documents at the Mar-a-Lago Club.”
National security information is the property of the U.S. government, the indictment states, adding that, under a 2009 executive order, “after his presidency, Trump was not authorized to possess or retain classified documents.”
However, a former Trump lawyer has stated that past presidents have been allowed to spend up to two years combing through records for personal versus government material.
In addition, the National Archives has typically rented space for outgoing presidents to house their records during the weeding-out process. But that process didn’t happen following Trump’s presidency.
In January 2022, Trump’s staff turned over 15 boxes of records to the National Archives after months of back-and-forth between that agency and Trump representatives.
Three months later, the FBI opened an investigation.
The situation escalated in May 2022 when a subpoena for the records was issued; the next month, a Trump lawyer assured officials that all classified records had been turned over to the National Archives.
In July 2022, “the FBI and grand jury obtained and reviewed surveillance video” from Mar-a-Lago, showing the movement of boxes during the two preceding months, the indictment says.
The purpose of moving the documents was, apparently, to conceal them from an unnamed Trump lawyer who was tasked with certifying that all classified records were given to the National Archives, according to the indictment.
The indictment doesn’t say how the surveillance videos were obtained. The indictment implies but doesn’t directly state, that the videos prompted the FBI to seek a court order for the search of Mar-a-Lago on Aug. 8, 2022.
The FBI seized 102 documents with classification markings on that date, the indictment says. The records were found in Trump’s office and in a storage room.
In all, the indictment alleges 38 charges; Trump is named as a defendant in 37 of them.
Thirty-one counts accuse Trump of “willful retention of National Defense Information.” Each charge relates to a specific document.
Two other counts separately accuse Nauta and Trump of “false statements and representations.”
The remaining five charges name both Trump and Nauta.
They are accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document or record, corruptly concealing a document or record, concealing a document in a federal investigation, and a “scheme to conceal” information sought during an investigation.