Former U.S. President Donald Trump in Miami on Tuesday became the first president to be arraigned on a federal indictment.
He entered the not guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman.
Trump had been indicted by Special Counsel Jack Smith on 37 felony counts related to mishandling of classified information. This includes 31 counts of willful retention of classified information, considered violations of the Espionage Act, as well as counts regarding obstruction of justice and making false statements.
Smith was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland last year to investigate the handling of the documents.
The documents contained classified information on defence capabilities of both the U.S. and foreign countries, as well as U.S. nuclear programs, according to the indictment. It was unsealed last Friday and revealed photos that Trump had been storing classified documents in a bedroom, ballroom and next to a toilet in a bathroom.
“I am an innocent man,” Trump posted on his social media platform Truth Social on Thursday when he announced the indictment ahead of the special counsel.
Smith responded the next day.
“We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone,” he said. “Adhering to and applying the laws is what determines the outcome of an investigation. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Smith also said his office will seek a “speedy trial.”
This follows Trump’s arraignment in Manhattan in April for falsifying business records to conceal damaging information from voters during the 2016 election, according to district attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment.
Richard Conley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, told Humber News there is a feeling among Republicans that there is a “dual-tiered system of justice,” given U.S. President Joe Biden’s own classified documents scandal.
Biden is under investigation for storing classified documents at the office of a think tank in Washington and his home in Delaware after his time as vice president. Garland appointed special counsel Robert Hur in January to investigate.
Biden’s lawyers say he co-operated at every step of the investigation and returned all classified documents. This stands in contrast to Smith’s indictment about how Trump dealt with the documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Republican U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy responded Monday to a question from a reporter on Capitol Hill whether it was a good idea to have classified documents in a bathroom.
“I don’t know. Is it a good picture to have boxes in a garage that opens up all the time? A bathroom door locks,” he said, referring to classified documents being stored in Biden’s garage near his Corvette.
Trump currently faces three other investigations.
In addition to the Bragg investigation over alleged hush money payments, Smith is also investigating Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
In Georgia, Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, is investigating Trump’s attempts to overturn 2020 election results in that state. Willis indicated that the grand jury convened will likely bring forth an indictment this August.
In May, New York City judge Juan Merchan set a trial date for March 25, 2024, in the Manhattan case. This means Trump will need to attend the trial in the middle of the Republican primary season.
But the trial date comes after Super Tuesday in the primary calendar, a day on which multiple states select their party’s nominee in the 2024 election. In recent history, the eventual nominee has locked in the delegates they needed to win before on or before this day.
It’s the “big question,” said Conley, who studies the presidency and Congress.
“What is any of this going to mean for Trump’s ability to compete?”
There are two trains of thought, he said. The first is that these trials will turn off independents because it will remind them of all of Trump’s “behavioural” issues.
The second is that it may “just dig in the Trump base and the Republican party,” Conley said.
On Friday, failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake made threatening remarks regarding Trump’s arraignment. Lake lost the race for governor in the 2022 midterms but has yet to concede.
“If you want to get to president Trump, you’re going to have to go through me, and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me, she said. “And I’m going to tell you, most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA [National Rifle Association]. That’s not a threat – that’s a public service announcement.”
This was an echo of Trump’s remarks during the 2016 campaign that “second amendment people” could stop Hillary Clinton from choosing supreme court justices if she won.
Conley said Lake is expressing in “not a very articulate way” the belief among many conservatives that Democrats want to eliminate the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
But she is “taking that to the extreme,” he said.
“The escalation of that kind of rhetoric, I think, is a bit frightening,” he said. “It’s overly dramatic and unnecessary. I mean, we do have a justice system. Who’s not to say that this judge in Miami just might kick out the whole thing?”
Conley said many students in his class about the presidency this past semester have expressed concerns about a potential civil war.
“Let’s hope that it doesn’t get to that point,” he said.
“All I can say this is going to be a very strange electoral cycle, probably the strangest in my lifetime.”