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A sullen and silent Trump goes before judge in Miami – amid din outside | Donald Trump

A sullen and silent Trump goes before judge in Miami – amid din outside | Donald Trump

Even by Florida’s already unorthodox standards, the arraignment of Donald J Trump, the ultimate carnival barker, in Miami on Tuesday afternoon was something of a circus.

The concept of a former leader of the free world appearing before a federal judge to deny he stole and retained some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets – keeping some in a bathroom – was surreal enough.

But the historic act of the twice impeached, twice indicted ex-president actually doing so, while remaining the runaway favorite to win the Republican party’s nomination for next year’s general election, was extraordinary.

Lending to the theater of the absurd outside downtown Miami’s Wilkie D Ferguson courthouse, named for a late, respected early Black judge of the southern judicial district of Florida, was a resident flock of roosters strutting around crowing, a top-hatted elderly gentleman in a red long-tailed coat waving a Trump-DeSantis 2024 flag, and a couple of dozen “Blacks for Trump” protesters insisting that “Trumpsters [sic] are not racist”.

But it was the proceedings inside courtroom 13-3 that held the attention. The 45th president of the United States sat silently, sullenly, between his lawyers throughout an arraignment hearing that lasted little more than 45 minutes, folding his arms and clenching his fingers, and occasionally grimacing in his navy blue suit and trademark red tie.

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It was his lawyer, Todd Blanche, who did the talking for the usually loquacious Trump. “[We] most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” Blanche said of the 37-count indictment that, thankfully, was not read out loud.

And: “We so demand [a jury trial], yes, your honor.”

There followed a robust discussion with magistrate judge Jonathan Goodman over conditions of bond. Trump will not have to surrender his passport, will not be barred from traveling domestically nor internationally, and will not have to put up any dollar amount for bail.

Yet he will be banned from talking about any aspect of the case with any “witness or victim”, which includes a range of characters from his Secret Service agents to his personal valet Waltine Nauda, his co-defendant who sat alongside him looking bewildered.

Watching on from the front row of the public gallery was Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith, Trump’s latest bete noire, who brought this indictment from a Miami grand jury.

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But Trump had to remain silent here, after launching torrents of disparaging rhetoric against Smith, Joe Biden and the president’s “weaponized” justice department in recent days in television interviews and his Truth Social network.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Trump turned and appeared to acknowledge the nine members of the public allowed in to watch, including one supporter in a red Make America Great Again cap, a Trump T-shirt and an eye patch.

Then he chatted briefly with his legal team, and made his way to the exit.

According to the US Marshals Service, Trump’s short booking process before the hearing was identical to that of any other defendant, although no mugshot was taken today, and no booking image will be released. Marshals indicated that enough photographs of Trump already existed for identification not to be an issue. Nor is he considered a flight risk.

Trump visits the Versailles restaurant in Little Havana after his arraignment in downtown Miami. Photograph: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Trump’s fingerprints, however, were taken, digitally, “so he won’t be rolling in ink”, a court official said. Also checked were his address, social security number, date of birth and “recent history”.

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As for the mass protests promised by Trump’s supporters, and feared by Miami’s mayor, Francis Suarez, at a press conference on Monday, the searing south Florida heat appeared to have had its say.

Thousands looked to have gathered, and were noisy enough. Yet the 94F temperatures and energy-sapping humidity of late spring in Miami are a world away from the comparatively calm conditions of early January in Washington. Faced with a heavy courthouse presence of Miami police and federal officers in tactical gear and rifles, anyone intent on similar violence to that set upon the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 was unlikely to achieve a similar result.

By late morning Tuesday, only pockets of Trump loyalists, some on bicycles with oversized flags, others in Maga caps, and adorned in Stars and Stripes attire, had shown up in the media encampment on the courthouse plaza.

By lunchtime, their numbers had swelled, as had those who welcomed the arraignment. One man holding a celebratory cardboard trophy bearing the words “Trump Indictment Tour 2023” was in animated discussion with a couple wrapped in yellow Don’t Tread on Me flags beloved by the Maga faithful.

Circling the perimeter, a pickup truck pulled a box trailer painted, with no hint of irony, to resemble a jail cell, with Biden and other Democrats peering from behind bars. “We are taking America back,” an accompanying message stated.

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At the hearing’s commencement, Trump’s supporters were four to five deep at the police tape, watched by police on bicycles but making no moves to pass it. By its conclusion many had retreated to the shadows of the tall railway station on the west side of the courthouse building, close to where the Trump motorcade was waiting.

The convoy had made the short journey from the Trump resort in Doral, west of downtown, where he spent the night, and accessed the courthouse complex underground. Trump entered the courthouse by a tunnel, escorted by Secret Service agents, and took an escalator to Goodman’s 13th floor courtroom.

He left the same way en route to the airport, and his flight back to New Jersey.

Back on the plaza, supporters who hadn’t even caught a glimpse of their champion continued to chant for him.

“I don’t know if he broke the law, but really, does it matter?” Felix Castillo, a 44-year-old Cuban American from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood said.

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“Whatever he did has been exaggerated by Biden, and that’s the real crime here. Biden had documents too, why isn’t he here?”

Trump, meanwhile, moves on, free to continue airing his grievances at Bedminster, on Truth Social or wherever, as he focuses on the next hearing in this case, an upcoming trial in New York on charges related to a hush money payment to an adult movie star, and possible future indictments for the 6 January insurrection and election interference in Georgia.

In Miami, the circus tent is down, for now at least, and Trump’s traveling show has left town. In the wings, its lead and only performer, is preparing for his next turn.

Richard Luscombe in Miami

Published: 2023-06-13 23:38:56

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