unknown territory. The United States entered this Tuesday after the former president donald trump went to a court in South Florida where he was called to answer for the 37 charges brought against him by special prosecutor Jack Smith in a case that has divided the country and that revolves around the alleged illegal theft of classified documents when Trump left the White House in January 2021.
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From the outset, it is a milestone in the country’s history, as it is the first time federal authorities have charged a person who was elected to lead the nation as president with criminal conduct. But even more so because the defendant in this case is emerging as the most probable winner of the primary elections of the Republican party and, therefore, with ample options to return to the Oval Office.
(The Latest: Trump Calls Indictment in Classified Files Case ‘Egregious Abuse of Power’)
Wearing a dark suit and red tie, and amid the protests of several hundred of his supporters who came to the Court to denounce a witch hunt against their leader, Donald Trump was briefly arrested and then brought before Judge Jonathan Goodman for a reading. of charges.
(See: Video: This is the moment of Trump’s arrival at his arrest in Miami, Florida.)
The former president faces 37 charges for mishandling classified documents.
As his lawyers had anticipated, The former president pleaded not guilty during this preliminary hearing, which is the one that begins the formal process against him. At the hearing, as normally happens in this type of appointment, the terms and conditions for releasing him while the process progresses were discussed.
Since he is a former president, who is already in the custody of the Secret Service, he was not required to pay a bond or have his passport confiscated to prevent him from leaving the country.
(Also read: The White House defends itself against Trump’s accusations about classified files).
The judge, however, did prevent him from coming into contact with potential witnesses in the case or public statements that would hinder the process. The case will now go into the hands of Judge Aileen Cannon, a native of Colombia, who was randomly assigned to lead the proceedings, but whose appointment is controversial.
At the hearing this Tuesday, special prosecutor Smith was present, who once again insisted that the laws that govern the US apply to everyone. “The laws that protect our national defense are critical to security and must be followed. Violations of these laws put our country at risk.”Smith said.
(Read on: ‘You Have Every Right To Possess Confidential Documents’: Trump’s Lawyer Speaks.)
According to prosecutors, among the documents Trump seized from the White House and later recovered were one on US nuclear weapons and another describing the “nuclear capabilities of a foreign country.”
Likewise, a 2018 White House intelligence report, communications with a foreign leader, documents on operations against US forces between January and March 2020, military activities and attacks.
Trump, according to the indictment, not only stored the documents hastily — in a bathroom, a ballroom and even his bedroom at his Mar-A-Lago residence — but shared them with others who were also not authorized to view them.
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The motorcade carrying former US President Donald Trump arriving at the federal courthouse in Miami.
But perhaps the most serious of the accusation are the charges that they raise for obstruction of justice. According to the prosecutor, The FBI tried for months to get Trump to return the documents voluntarily, but his efforts were repeatedly and maliciously blocked by the former president and his trusted staff..
Very telling is the fact that the prosecutor did not charge him for the theft of classified documents but for the use he gave them (sharing them) and for obstructing justice when they tried to recover them. In other words, probably none of this would have happened if the former president had returned them when requested.
(You can read: ‘A ridiculous accusation’: Trump defends himself in case of classified documents).
The Florida case is just one among several legal entanglements that Trump has. In March, a New York prosecutor indicted him for concealing payments to a porn actress he reportedly had a relationship with to prevent her from telling the story on the eve of the 2016 presidential election.
Supporters of the former president received him upon his arrival at the federal court.
And it is expected that very soon the Georgia prosecutor’s office will also charge him for trying to interfere in the electoral process in this state during the 2020 elections.
According to Eric Langer, professor of history at Georgetown University, the processes show that in the US justice applies to everyone and that being a former president is not permission to break the law.
(Also read: The special prosecutor handling the case of Donald Trump says he will seek a speedy trial).
However, Trump supporters and at least 60 members of the Republican Party believe that what is underway is a political vendetta by the Democrats to prevent his return to the White House. “What we are witnessing today is the flagrant use of the judicial system for political purposes,” said Alina Habba, one of his lawyers.
Trump himself fueled that version on Tuesday night by describing the indictment as an “evil and egregious abuse of power.” Before supporters gathered at the New Jersey golf club, he called US President Joe Biden “corrupt” and accused him of lashing out at “his main political adversary of his.” “It’s electoral interference,” he said.
Both the process started this Tuesday and the other pending cases will advance from now on along two parallel, but highly intertwined paths: legal and political. The first, with its own times, will probably culminate in trials against the former president that will be resolved by what a jury defines after listening to the parties. It is estimated that it could take 18 months before a verdict is reached.
(In context: Donald Trump: These are the charges against him in the classified documents case.)
Trump announces he has been indicted in an investigation into classified documentsFormer US President Donald Trump said Thursday that he was indicted in the federal investigation for his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.
With this, he becomes the center of attention and will remain at the heart of the news, which favors him to defeat his rivals in the primaries.
The case in Florida, perhaps the most serious of all, contemplates prison sentences of up to 30 years. But nothing in US law prevents Trump from continuing on the presidential campaign trail. In fact, the constitution does not block the possibility for the former president to take office and rule even if he is found guilty.
Something that could well happen, since the cases could be resolved towards the final stretch of the 2024 presidential elections. However, the charges against him and a possible conviction will not disappear even if Trump wins the White House again, let alone if he ends up losing.
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Even so, in the political arena things will have another dynamic.
According to Langer, Trump will most likely benefit from the lawsuits against him, at least during the primary elections.
“With this, he becomes the center of attention and will remain at the heart of the news, which favors him to defeat his rivals in the primaries. In fact, after the trial in New York, his image among Republicans improved. But I think that when it comes to the general election he will pay the cost, because independent voters, some Republicans and all Democrats will not want a convicted person for president, ”says the analyst.
But for that there is still a long way to go and anything could happen.
(You can read: Trump, the first former US president to be indicted on federal charges).
SERGIO GOMEZ MASERI
EL TIEMPO correspondent
On Twitter: @sergom68