Donald Trump flew to Miami on Monday to face charges of hoarding classified documents, in a legal reckoning that goes far beyond misconduct accusations the former US president has largely ridden out in the past.
Trump will appear in court Tuesday to answer charges that he lied and schemed to hang on to dozens of secret records he took to his beachfront mansion in Florida when he left the White House in 2021.
The twice-impeached Republican — who is vying to win back the presidency next year — struck a defiant note as he prepared to become the first of America’s 46 presidents to be arraigned in federal court, amid ramped-up security.
“Getting ready to head down to Doral in Miami,” Trump posted on his Truth Social network, as he flew to spend the night at his Florida golf course, a 25-minute drive from the courthouse.
“We must all be STRONG and DEFEAT the Communists, Marxists, and Radical Left Lunatics that are systematically destroying our Country,” wrote the former president, who was expected to meet with his legal team in Florida. “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Trump, the runaway frontrunner in the 2024 Republican primary, said the latest indictment will not force him out of seeking a second term — teeing up a campaign like no other in history that will pit a legal contest against an electoral one.
– ‘I’ll never leave’ –
“I’ll never leave. Look, if I would have left, I would have left prior to the original race in 2016,” Trump told Politico on his plane as he campaigned at the weekend.
The billionaire, who turns 77 on Wednesday, is charged with willfully possessing documents clearly marked as government secrets, refusing to return them and conspiring to obstruct related investigations.
He is also accused of sharing sensitive US secrets with people who had no security clearance, in a much more serious case than any he has previously faced — with the charges against him potentially carrying decades-long prison sentences.
The document included photographs showing boxes that were supposed be in the National Archives stacked in a “ballroom, a bathroom and shower, an office space, his bedroom and a storage room” at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach residence.
The former president rejected as “ridiculous and baseless” the 49-page indictment released by the Justice Department following months of investigation by a special prosecutor.
Security was expected to be intense around Miami’s Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Courthouse, with police bracing for protests including by a local chapter of the far-right Proud Boys group.
The Republican leader is expected to fly to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, afterwards to restate his innocence in a speech before supporters.
– Most serious case –
Trump has been impeached twice, he has been accused of interfering in a federal investigation over his campaign’s extensive ties with Russia and he has been found liable at a civil trial for sexual abuse.
His company has been convicted of fraud, his “Trump University” training scheme ceased operations mired in lawsuits and his charity was dissolved by court order amid a litany of legal and ethical controversies.
Trump’s campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, personal lawyer, chief strategist, national security advisor, foreign policy advisor, campaign fixer and chief financial officer have all been convicted of crimes connected to their time in his orbit and some have faced jail.
But Trump did not face personal criminal exposure in any of those cases.
That changed dramatically in March when a New York state prosecutor charged Trump with 34 felonies over allegations that he covered up hush money payments to a porn star.
And on Tuesday, he faces arraignment on a second set of much more serious charges, this time in federal court.
Trump told Politico on Saturday that “nobody” would welcome being a federal criminal defendant.
“I don’t care that my poll numbers went up by a lot. I don’t want to be indicted,” he said.
Three-quarters of likely Republican primary voters believe the charges against Trump are politically motivated, according to a new CBS News/YouGov poll, and only a fifth think Trump should be barred from election if convicted.
Trump’s party rivals, handed an easy opportunity to claim the frontrunner is unfit, have largely plumped for attacking the Justice Department or sitting on the fence.
Meanwhile members of the loyalist House of Representatives Republican group have rallied enthusiastically behind their party leader, interpreting the indictment as evidence the government has been weaponized against conservatives.
© Agence France-Presse