Donald Trump blasted “the most evil and egregious abuse of power” after pleading not guilty to federal charges in a Miami courthouse on Tuesday, as he tries to turn his legal woes into political advantage in the 2024 election.
Trump delivered the tirade from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club on Tuesday night after returning from Florida where he became the first former president to be federally indicted.
The former president lashed out at the Biden administration, accusing it of a politically motivated prosecution, targeting the prosecutors leading the case and vowing specific retaliation against members of the “deep state” who brought it to court.
“Today we witness the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country. . . It’s a political persecution like something from a fascist or communist nation,” Trump said.
The former president then raised the political stakes and turned to next year’s race for the White House, in which he is the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.
“When I am re-elected, and we are re-elected . . . I will eliminate the deep state completely. We will eliminate the deep state and we know who they are,” he said. “Justice will be served on November 5, 2024.”
Trump’s provocative words came after he faced some of the most serious criminal charges related to national security that federal prosecutors can bring, including the deliberate retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate after leaving office.
Special counsel Jack Smith, appointed by Attorney-General Merrick Garland to oversee the investigation of the former president, brought the case and was present in the courtroom in Miami.
This was the second time this year that Trump was forced to enter a plea in connection with criminal charges after he was indicted by Manhattan prosecutors in March for allegedly falsifying business records.
Television footage of Trump’s Secret Service motorcade traveling to court along a closed stretch of highway in Florida resembled scenes that unfolded in New York 10 weeks ago.
Trump entered the Miami courthouse around 2 p.m. Tuesday after traveling from his resort hotel in nearby Doral. He was arrested on arrival and left about two hours later. After the hearing, he stopped at a popular Cuban restaurant in Miami of Versailles, where he greeted patrons who sang “Happy Birthday.” He will be 77 on Wednesday.
After Trump’s court appearance, protesters for and against him gathered and in some cases brawled and chanted outside the courthouse.
Legal experts said they were surprised by the breadth of evidence laid out in the Justice Department case unsealed last week, which includes allegations of conspiracy to obstruct justice, concealing documents from a federal investigation and making false statements.
The indictment alleges that Trump illegally moved classified material to his Mar-a-Lago, Florida residence after he left the White House in 2021 and then lied during a government investigation into the records.
Prosecutors alleged that Trump showed sensitive records such as US “plans of attack” against a foreign country to visitors while admitting they were “secret”.
The indictment includes photographs of boxes of classified documents stacked in bathrooms and showers, a ballroom and a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, his estate, which is also the scene of the incident.
Trump insisted on Tuesday that he had “every right” to withhold the documents, claiming he had “full declassification authority,” even though that authority only applied while he was president.
No travel restrictions were imposed on Trump, although he was instructed not to speak to potential witnesses in the case.
The case will be heard by federal judge Allyn Cannon, who was nominated to the bench by Trump. Last year, she granted his request for a “special master” to review records seized by the FBI at Mar-a-Lago, although that decision was overturned by an appeals court.
Another defendant has been charged: Waltin Nauta, a former White House valet who later became a Trump aide. Nauta was not arraigned Tuesday because he did not have a local attorney to represent him.
If convicted, Trump faces five to 20 years in prison for each count. But experts said he was unlikely to serve that much jail time if he was in jail.
Further legal complications may arise. Smith is overseeing a separate investigation into alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election, as is Fannie Willis, the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia.
Joe Biden, the Democratic president who has said he will run for re-election, is facing a separate investigation by another special counsel into classified material found in his residential garage in Delaware and a former private office in Washington.
Many of Trump’s usual political allies have come to his defense since the accusations were made, but others were more cautious. Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, declined to be drawn on questions about Trump at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, telling reporters: “I’m just going to stay away from it.”
Additional reporting by Lauren Feder