Former US president Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging he hoarded classified documents detailing sensitive military secrets, and schemed to thwart government efforts to get them back.
Mr Trump appeared before a judge in Miami’s federal court on Tuesday in a stunning moment in American history days after he became the first former president charged with federal crimes.
Mr Trump was released without having to pay a bond. He does not have to surrender his passport or restrict his personal travel.
His first stop after court was a restaurant in the Little Havana neighbourhood of the city.
Inside, a group of people greeted him and laid hands on him in prayer. They also sang Happy Birthday to him – Mr Trump will be 77 on Wednesday.
“Some birthday, some birthday,” he said. “We’ve got a government that is out of control.”
Former President Donald Trump visited Miami’s iconic Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana after pleading not guilty to federal charges alleging he hoarded classified documents.
The crowd serenaded him with the “Happy Birthday” song, one day before his 77th birthday. pic.twitter.com/xxZnrnv8DL
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 13, 2023
Authorities say Mr Trump schemed and lied to block the government from recovering the documents, concerning nuclear programmes and other sensitive military secrets, stored at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
It is the second criminal case Mr Trump is facing as he seeks to reclaim the White House in 2024.
He is also accused in a New York state court of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign.
Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is being unfairly targeted by political opponents who want to hurt his campaign.
Mr Trump’s motorcade arrived at the court shortly before he was scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge.
He had travelled to Miami with his son Eric. CNN aired footage of Mr Trump walking to a line of vehicles from his Doral resort in Florida with his son by his side while someone yelled: “Let’s go Trump!”
Former President Donald Trump arrived at the federal courthouse in Miami to formally surrender ahead of his court appearance on charges accusing him of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. pic.twitter.com/xHiGGfLcAJ
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 13, 2023
Mr Trump stopped and waved at supporters. Eric Trump appeared to clap his father on the back just before he climbed into a vehicle.
Mr Trump will later return to New Jersey, where he is expected to hold a press event to publicly respond to the charges.
His appearance in court kickstarts a legal process that will unfold at the height of the 2024 presidential campaign and carry profound consequences not only for his political future but also his own personal liberty.
Four black vehicles entered the garage beneath the Miami court building, followed by police, ahead of his scheduled 3pm local time appearance.
A fifth black vehicle remained outside. Security was tight outside the building but there were no signs of significant disruptions.
Once inside, he was formally booked, though he was not expected to have a mugshot taken.
Mr Trump approached his appearance in court with characteristic bravado, insisting as he has through years of legal woes that he has done nothing wrong and was being persecuted for political purposes.
But the gravity of the moment was unmistakable as he answers to 37 felony counts that accuse him of wilfully retaining classified records that prosecutors say could have jeopardised national security if exposed, then trying to hide them from investigators who demanded them back.
The case is laden with political implications for Mr Trump, 76, who currently holds the dominant spot in the early days of the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
But it also has a profound legal impact given the prospect of a years-long prison sentence.
Even for a defendant whose post-presidential life has been dominated by investigations, the documents probe has stood out for both the apparent volume of evidence amassed by prosecutors and the severity of the allegations.
It is also a watershed moment for a Justice Department that until last week had never before brought charges against a former president.
Attorney general Merrick Garland, an appointee of President Joe Biden, sought to insulate the department from political attacks by handing ownership of the case last year to a special counsel, Jack Smith, who on Friday declared, “We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.”
The arraignment, though largely procedural in nature, is the latest in an unprecedented public reckoning this year for Mr Trump, who faces charges in New York arising from hush money payments during his 2016 presidential campaign as well as ongoing investigations in Washington and Atlanta into efforts to undo the results of the 2020 race.
He has sought to project confidence in the face of legal peril, attacking Mr Smith as “a Trump hater”, pledging to stay in the race and scheduling a speech and fundraiser on Tuesday night at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club.
The court appearance is also unfolding against the backdrop of potential protests.
Some high-profile backers have used barbed rhetoric to voice support.
Mr Trump himself has encouraged supporters to join a planned protest at the court.