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In a historic first court appearance as a federal defendant, Donald Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to hundreds of criminal counts of mishandling some of the US government’s most sensitive secrets and plotting to block their return.
The former president, who is the Republican Party’s favourite to win the presidency next year, surrendered to US Marshals in Miami for a hearing that set up the unusual situation of a White House race being fought in court as well as at the vote box.
Donald Trump came before a magistrate court on the eve of his 77th birthday to be formally charged with 37 counts under seven accusations brought by a special counsel investigation that began after an FBI raid on his Florida property ten months ago.
However, in a speech to supporters, he denounced his prosecution as politically motivated, presenting the charge as an attempt to meddle in the 2024 race.
“Today, we witnessed the most evil and heinous abuse of power in our country’s history.” “It’s been a very sad thing to watch,” Trump remarked after returning to his summer home in New Jersey.
The hearing came just weeks after Donald Trump denied state level financial fraud charges in a separate case in Manhattan, threatening to disrupt the former reality TV star’s ambition to return to the Oval Office.
The US government, which has never prosecuted a former president before, accuses Trump of breaching the Espionage Act and other crimes by removing confidential materials after leaving office in 2021 and failing to turn them over to the National Archives.
Authorities claim he planned to obstruct investigators and knowingly revealed national security information to others who did not have the necessary clearance.
After the hearing, Trump flew from Miami to his golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he blamed President Joe Biden for his prosecution.
“A corrupt sitting president had his top political opponent arrested on fake and fabricated charges — of which he and numerous other presidents would be guilty — right in the middle of a presidential election, in which he’s losing very badly,” said Trump, speaking from the front of the clubhouse, at a podium flanked by American flags.
He was cheered by several hundred supporters, including 100 members of a conservative organization of Vietnamese Americans who had donned matching red dresses and chanted: “We love Trump.”
Travesty Remark on Donald Trump
According to a recent Ipsos poll, Trump has significant support among Republican voters, with 81 percent believing the charges against him are politically motivated.
Antonio Rufa, 30, who had travelled to Bedminister to support Donald Trump, termed the indictment a “travesty,” while Vincent Larusso, 57, thought the prosecution was intended to prevent Donald Trump from standing for reelection.
“This is not democracy, and people can see it from a hundred miles away,” said Larusso to AFP.
According to US media, the administration has retrieved more than 300 documents with classified markings from Trump since officials learned his correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was missing.
According to prosecutors, the records were the work of top national security and law enforcement agencies such as the CIA and NSA, and some concerned the military and nuclear capabilities of the United States and other countries, as well as “plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.”
The 49-page indictment, which Trump described as “ridiculous,” contains images of boxes of records stacked at his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago, in a ballroom and in a bathroom and shower.
According to one image, by December 2021, some of the boxes that had been transferred to a storage room had fallen, scattering their contents on the floor.
Don’t play ball
According to the indictment, Donald Trump dismissed his attorneys’ attempts to comply with a subpoena for the handover of the information, telling a lawyer, “What happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?”
Trump, who leads second-placed Ron DeSantis by more than 30 points in the 2024 Republican primary, has been impeached twice on charges of misconduct in government and was recently held liable for sexual assault.
He faces indictment or ongoing inquiry in four criminal investigations – in Washington, Florida, Georgia, and New York – and might face several trials as he campaigns for re-election.
The brash businessman has repeatedly claimed that the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” – and has pledged to stay in the race regardless of the outcome of the papers case.
He stated on Monday that when he returns to office, he will appoint a special prosecutor to examine Biden, who is not facing any genuine criminal charges.
Republican leaders in Congress and Donald Trump’s opponents for the Republican presidential nomination have largely ignored the gravity of the allegations against him, instead blaming the Justice Department.
According to the Pew Research Centre, less than 1% of federal defendants in the United States get to trial and are acquitted. The great majority, around 90%, pleaded guilty.