Former U.S. President Donald Trump was due to appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday to face criminal charges that he unlawfully kept national-security documents when he left office and lied to officials who sought to recover them.
It will be the second courtroom visit for Trump since April, when he pleaded not guilty to charges in New York stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star.
Trump is the first current or former president to face criminal charges, but that has not dented his hopes of returning to the White House.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, he holds a wide lead over his rivals for the Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential election and 81 per cent of Republican voters view the charges against him as politically motivated.
Trump has maintained his innocence and portrayed the case as an effort to undermine his re-election effort.
After his court appearance at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT), Trump is due to fly back to his New Jersey golf course, where he is scheduled to speak in the evening.
Trump’s April court appearance in New York drew a circus-like atmosphere of vocal supporters and protesters, and officials in Miami are bracing for crowds of up to 50,000 people.
Some worry Trump’s charged rhetoric could spur violence, recalling the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
As of Tuesday morning, those crowds had yet to appear. A handful of Trump supporters wandered among the tents set up by news outlets that were covering the event. Security was tight, and reporters were not allowed to bring mobile phones or other electronic devices into the building.
U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the prosecution, accuses Trump of taking thousands of papers containing some of the nation’s most sensitive national-security secrets when he left the White House in January 2021 and storing them in a haphazard manner at his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate, according to a grand jury indictment released last week.
Photos included in the indictment show boxes of documents stored on a ballroom stage, in a bathroom and strewn across a storage-room floor.
The indictment alleges Trump lied to officials who tried to get them back.
The 37-count indictment includes violations of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes unauthorized possession of defense information, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Trump turns 77 on Wednesday.
Legal experts say the evidence amounts to a strong case, and Smith has said Trump will have a “speedy” trial.
The judge assigned to the case, Aileen Cannon, was appointed by Trump in 2020 and issued a ruling in his favor during the investigation last year that was reversed on appeal.
Experts say it could be a year or more before a trial takes place, due to the complexities of handling classified evidence. Trump’s lawyers could file a blizzard of motions to challenge Smith’s case before it reaches trial, which would lead to further delays.
In the meantime, Trump is free to campaign for the presidency and could take office even if he were to be found guilty.
Trump accuses Democratic President Joe Biden of orchestrating the federal case to undermine his campaign. Biden has kept his distance from the case and declines to comment on it.