What to expect when Trump appears in federal court in Miami to face felony charges
Jun 13, 2023, 11:09 AM
(Justice Department via AP)
Here’s a look at the charges, the special counsel’s investigation and how Trump’s case differs from those of other politicians known to be in possession of classified documents:
What happens next?
Trump was to surrender to federal authorities ahead of a hearing scheduled for 3 p.m. in federal court in Miami. He was to appear alongside his valet Walt Nauta, who is also charged in the case.
Unlike his arraignment in New York, there won’t be photographs from the courtroom because cameras aren’t allowed in federal court. There may, however, be sketch artists, and theirs would be the only images from the actual courtroom appearance.
There’s also a prohibition on reporters bringing electronic devices into the courthouse, so there won’t be live updates by tweet or text. That rule is usually up to to each federal judge, but an order has been issued in this case specifically imposing restrictions for Trump’s initial hearing.
Trump and Nauta are expected to enter not guilty pleas in the case, and both sides will discuss any potential conditions of bail, which could include an order to surrender the former president’s passport.
Trump will not be subjected to a mugshot photo when he appears in federal court because authorities have enough photos of him in their identification system. That’s according to a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, who said that Trump’s digital fingerprints would be taken and his birthdate and Social Security number recorded.
What are the charges?
Trump faces 37 counts related to the mishandling of classified documents, including 31 counts under an Espionage Act statute pertaining to the willful retention of national defense information. The charges also include counts of obstructing justice and making false statements, among other crimes.
Trump is accused of keeping documents related to “nuclear weaponry in the United States” and the “nuclear capabilities of a foreign country,” along with documents from White House intelligence briefings, including some that detail the military capabilities of the U.S. and other countries, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege Trump showed off the documents to people who did not have security clearances to review them and later tried to conceal documents from his own lawyers as they sought to comply with federal demands to find and return documents.
The top charges carry penalties of up to 20 years in prison.
How did this case come about?
Officials with the National Archives and Records Administration reached out to representatives for Trump in spring 2021 when they realized that important material from his time in office was missing.
According to the Presidential Records Act, White House documents are considered property of the U.S. government and must be preserved.
A Trump representative told the National Archives in December 2021 that presidential records had been found at Mar-a-Lago. In January 2022, the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of documents from Trump’s Florida home, later telling Justice Department officials that they contained “a lot” of classified material.
That May, the FBI and Justice Department issued a subpoena for remaining classified documents in Trump’s possession. Investigators who went to visit the property weeks later to collect the records were given roughly three dozen documents and a sworn statement from Trump’s lawyers attesting that the requested information had been returned.
But that assertion turned out to be false. With a search warrant, federal officials returned to Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 and seized more than 33 boxes and containers totaling 11,000 documents from a storage room and an office, including 100 classified documents.
In all, roughly 300 documents with classification markings — including some at the top secret level — have been recovered from Trump since he left office in January 2021.
Didn’t President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence have classified documents, too?
Yes, but the circumstances of their cases are vastly different from those involving Trump.
After classified documents were found at Biden’s think tank and Pence’s Indiana home, their lawyers notified authorities and quickly arranged for them to be handed over. They also authorized other searches by federal authorities to search for additional documents.
There is no indication either was aware of the existence of the records before they were found, and no evidence has so far emerged that Biden or Pence sought to conceal the discoveries. That’s important because the Justice Department historically looks for willfulness in deciding whether to bring criminal charges.
A special counsel was appointed earlier this year to probe how classified materials ended up at Biden’s Delaware home and former office. But even if the Justice Department were to find Biden’s case prosecutable on the evidence, its Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that a president is immune from prosecution during his time in office.
As for Pence, the Justice Department informed his legal team earlier this month that it would not be pursuing criminal charges against him over his handling of the documents.
What about Hillary Clinton?
In claiming that Trump is the target of a politically motivated prosecution, some fellow Republicans have cited the Justice Department’s decision in 2016 not to bring charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent in that year’s presidential race, over her handling of classified information.
Clinton relied on a private email system for the sake of convenience during her time as the Obama administration’s top diplomat. That decision came back to haunt her when, in 2015, the intelligence agencies’ internal watchdog alerted the FBI to the presence of potentially hundreds of emails containing classified information.
FBI investigators would ultimately conclude that Clinton sent and received emails containing classified information on that unclassified system, including information classified at the top secret level. Of the roughly 30,000 emails turned over by Clinton’s representatives, the FBI has said, 110 emails in 52 email chains were found to have classified information, including some top secret.
After a roughly yearlong inquiry, the FBI closed the investigation in July 2016, finding that Clinton did not intend to break the law. The bureau reopened the inquiry months later, 11 days before the presidential election, after discovering a new batch of emails. After reviewing those communications, the FBI again opted against recommending charges.
At the time, then-FBI Director James Comey condemned Clinton’s email practices as “extremely careless,” but noted that there was no evidence that Clinton had violated factors including efforts to obstruct justice, willful mishandling of classified documents and indications of disloyalty to the U.S.
Does a federal indictment prevent Trump from running for president?
No. Neither the indictment itself nor a conviction would prevent Trump from running for or winning the presidency in 2024.