Donald Trump is set to make his first court appearance in a historic criminal case where he stands accused of hoarding top secret government documents and jeopardising national security.
The Department of Justice’s prosecution of a former president for the first time in United States history carries the prospect of a prison sentence.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Trump is also the leading Republican candidate in the race for the US presidency in 2024 elections – he has repeatedly called this prosecution political.
Trump landed in Florida around 3pm (19:00 GMT) on Monday and is expected to appear in federal court in Miami at 3pm on Tuesday.
What are the charges?
A 49-page indictment unsealed last week charged Trump with 37 felony counts, 31 relating to the willful retention of national defence information. Other charges include conspiracy to commit obstruction and false statements.
Trump is accused of unlawfully and haphazardly stacking dozens of sensitive national security files in his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate when he left office in 2021, refusing to return them and conspiring to obstruct investigators seeking to recover them.
He is also charged with sharing sensitive US secrets with people who had no security clearance, in a much more serious case than any he has previously faced.
The material he stored included nuclear programmes, defence and weapons capabilities of the US and foreign governments, the indictment said. The information, if exposed, could have put at risk members of the military, confidential human sources and intelligence collection methods, prosecutors said.
Evidence also includes photographs showing boxes that were supposed to be in the National Archives stacked at in a ballroom and in a toilet and shower at his beachfront house.
Prosecutors say Trump later sought to obstruct government efforts to recover the documents, including by directing personal aide Waltine “Walt” Nauta – who was charged alongside Trump – to move boxes to conceal them and also suggesting to his own lawyer that he hide or destroy documents sought by a Department of Justice subpoena.
What can we expect on the first hearing or arraignment?
The first hearing during which the judge explains the charges is known as an arraignment.
Fingerprints and headshots are usually taken before the defendants are presented in court to appear before a judge – though it is not clear whether that will take place. During his arraignment in New York City on state charges, Trump was fingerprinted but not handcuffed nor was his photo – known as a “mug shot” – taken.
Trump could waive the reading of the charges, and it is unclear whether he will be asked to enter a plea Tuesday.
Trump is expected to deny the charges, which he previously dismissed as “ridiculous”.
“There’s never been anything like it. A witch-hunt like this has never taken place,” he told a local conservative Hispanic radio station after arriving in Miami.
Though Trump is set to appear before a federal magistrate, the case has been assigned to a District Court judge, Aileen Cannon, who last year ruled to appoint a special master to review the seized classified documents. A federal appeals panel ultimately overturned her ruling. Cannon was appointed to the bench during the Trump administration in May 2020.
It is unclear what defences Trump is likely to cite as the case moves forward.
Two of his lead lawyers announced their resignations on the morning after his indictment on Friday, without elaborating on the reasons behind the decision. And the notes and recollections of another Trump lawyer, M Evan Corcoran, are cited repeatedly throughout the indictment, suggesting that prosecutors may see him as a key witness.
Trump had said he was looking to add to his legal team, although no announcements were made on Monday. Under the rules of the district, defendants are required to have a lawyer licensed to practice in the district for an arraignment to proceed.
Law enforcement officials were preparing for potential unrest, after Trump encouraged supporters to join a planned protest at the court. Miami police said it was bracing for protests of up to 50,000 and prepared for the possibility of violence.
Some Republican lawmakers have been criticised for rhetoric that could inspire violence, including Louisiana’s Clay Higgins, who told supporters to “buckle up” and Arizona’s Andy Biggs, who tweeted, “We have now reached a war phase. An eye for an eye.”
After the hearing, Trump is expected to fly to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, to restate his innocence in a speech before supporters.
Can Trump end up in jail?
The charges can carry decades-long prison sentences, though legal analysts have said that first offenders rarely get the maximum incarceration penalties.
Charges include violations of the Espionage Act that criminalises unauthorised possession of defence information, as well as conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Former attorney general, William Barr, who was appointed by Trump offered a grim assessment of the former president’s predicament.
“If even half of it is true, then he’s toast,” Barr said of the allegations on Fox News. “I mean, it’s a pretty – it’s a very detailed indictment, and it’s very, very damning. And this idea of presenting Trump as a victim here – a victim of a witch hunt is ridiculous.”
The indictment from special counsel Jack Smith – who is also investigating Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden – relied heavily on statements made by Trump himself.
Can Trump still run for president in 2024?
Legal experts have said the indictment does not prevent him from running for president – or taking office even if he is found guilty.
Any federal trial in Florida may not take place until after the November 2024 presidential election.
Candidates with criminal convictions have run for president in the past. Two previous candidates, Eugene V Debs in 1920 and Lyndon LaRouche in 1992, both ran from prison.
The runaway frontrunner in the 2024 Republican primary has pledged to stay in the race, regardless of the outcome of the case.
Trump also is due to go on trial in March 2024 in a separate case in New York state court, stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star. He appeared before a New York court in that case in April.
Despite the legal proceedings against him, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll found a vast majority of his fellow Republicans believe the lawsuits to be politically motivated.