(The Hill) – Former President Trump was arraigned on 37 criminal charges on Tuesday in Miami — a day that was at once extraordinary and mundane.
The extraordinary element was the nature of the event itself — the first-ever federal arraignment of a former president.
The charges against Trump pertain to his possession of sensitive documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Related charges, including one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, also carry the threat of significant prison time if convicted.
Trump pled not guilty to all charges.
A trial could, potentially, land in the middle of the GOP primary race in which Trump is the frontrunner.
The more mundane element was that the day proceeded largely as expected, with little new being learnt about the case and little drama at the court itself.
Here are the main takeaways.
Trump tries to seize back the narrative
Trump sought to punch back on Tuesday evening, trying to change the narrative of a day that highlighted the sheer gravity of the threats pressing in upon him.
Speaking at his Bedminster club for roughly 30 minutes, Trump alleged that the decision to charge him amounted to “the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country.”
There was much more hyperbole where that came from.
Even some veterans of Trump’s administration, including former Attorney General Bill Barr, have acknowledged that the indictment is detailing and compelling. But in the former president’s retelling, it is instead part of “a political persecution like something straight out of a fascist or communist nation.”
Special Counsel Jack Smith, Trump added, “is a thug.”
Such language is customary for Trump — and is welcomed by his most avid supporters even as critics roll their eyes.
A more interesting, and unscripted, moment came earlier on Tuesday when Trump stopped at Miami’s storied Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana.
The restaurant is a legendary one among the Cuban-American community, which has displayed considerable support for Trump — and for his GOP rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in last year’s gubernatorial election.
“Food for everyone!,” Trump shouted at one point.
The visit to the Cuban restaurant was clearly intended as a show of Trump’s irrepressibility, a positive photo op amid serious trouble and a shot across DeSantis’s bows.
Some constraints will be imposed on Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. Trump is facing 37 counts related to the mishandling and retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. He plead not guilty to the charges in Miami federal court earlier Tuesday, alongside his co-defendant, valet Walt Nauta, and was released on his own recognizance without having to pay bail. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
The one significant legal development on Tuesday was a move toward constraining Trump from speaking with witnesses.
The exact details of what was agreed varied in different reports.
Initial suggestions that Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman had ordered that Trump should be prohibited from talking with potential witnesses at all were over-broad.
Later reports clarified that Trump lawyers had objected to such a blanket prohibition on the basis that it was impractical — it would presumably prevent the former president from speaking to anyone who is regularly at Mar-a-Lago.
More Trump arraignment coverage
- ‘This day will go down in infamy’: Trump rages in post-arraignment speech
- Trump unloads on special counsel Jack Smith in speech hours after arraignment
- Trump stops at popular Cuban restaurant after pleading not guilty: ‘Food for everyone’
- Fox News chyron dubs Biden ‘wannabe dictator’ after Trump indictment
But there will be some restrictions imposed, with the specifics to be agreed by both sides, according to the New York Times.
Trump has been ordered not to speak to his aide, Walt Nauta, about the case, however,
Nauta is Trump’s co-defendant on five of the charges: conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a document, and three separate charges relating to concealment. In addition, Nauta and Trump were also separately charged with the same offense, making a false statement.
Trump crowds out his GOP rivals
Former President Donald Trump speaks at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Tuesday, June 13, 2023, after pleading not guilty in a Miami courtroom earlier in the day to dozens of felony counts that he hoarded classified documents and refused government demands to give them back. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Love him or loathe him, Trump is plainly a unique political figure.
He has been written off many times since he entered the political arena, amid controversies beginning with the incendiary speech he delivered to launch his 2016 campaign and encompassing his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Despite all that, Trump remains the clear frontrunner to become the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Tuesday’s events may actually have strengthened his position in that respect.
There is some evidence in polls taken since Trump’s indictment that Republican voters are rallying around the former president, much as they did after he was charged with separate crimes in New York in April.
Trump’s rivals for the nomination are struggling for the oxygen of attention — and getting noticed only for remarks they make responding to the former president’s situation.
The blanket media coverage of the arraignment on Tuesday underlined that dynamic
Trump’s status — twice-indicted, twice-impeached — could play very differently among independent voters, which would massively hinder his efforts to win back the White House.
But the odds of him being the Republican nominee haven’t changed much at all — and may have improved.
Democrats are mostly muted
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Democrats saw no real need to spike the football over Trump’s arraignment.
They presumably wanted to avoid fueling the former president’s efforts to discredit the case as politically motivated.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at Tuesday’s media briefing, “I’m just not going to comment on anything that’s related to the indictment. We’re just going to be very mindful here and respect the Department of Justice, let them do their job.”
Beyond the White House, Democrats mostly trained their rhetorical fire on Republican elected officials who have, by and large, stood behind Trump.
“The fact that House Republicans continue to try to come to his rescue just blows our mind, quite honestly,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said during a press briefing in the Capitol. “And it stems from the fact that this is the leader of their party. They — lock stock and barrel — will follow what the former president says.”
Modest crowds and no trouble
Alina Habba, lawyer for former President Donald Trump, speaks outside the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse, Tuesday, June 13, 2023, in Miami. Trump appeared in federal court Tuesday on dozens of felony charges accusing him of illegally hoarding classified documents and thwarting the Justice Department’s efforts to get the records back. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Miami police had been bracing for the possibility of disorder at the arraignment.
At a Monday press conference, chief of police Manuel Morales had said that his officers were readying for “crowds anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000.”
It’s not at all clear that the crowds even hit the lowest end of that scale.
There were no signs of any significant disorder — the one factor in an otherwise polarizing day that was universally welcomed.
Mike Lillis contributed reporting.