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“Unique & Shocking”: Donald Trump Arrested on 37 Counts for Mishandling Classified Documents

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Image Credit: Jane Rosenberg

As former President Donald Trump was arrested and arraigned at a federal courthouse in Miami, where he pleaded not guilty to 37 felony charges around his handling of classified documents, we speak with Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. He predicts Trump “will challenge every aspect of this prosecution,” but says there is no reason the trial can’t begin within the next year. Trump is the first president to ever be arraigned on federal charges, just months after he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony criminal charges in New York in a state investigation involving hush-money payments during the 2016 election campaign. This all comes as the former president, who was impeached twice and is now facing multiple indictments, is now running again for the White House.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show looking at the booking and arraignment of Donald Trump. On Tuesday, the former president surrendered to authorities at a federal courthouse in Miami, then pleaded not guilty to 37 felony charges around his handling of classified documents. Trump became the first president to ever be arraigned on federal charges.

The courtroom scene in Miami came just over two months after Trump pled not guilty to 34 felony criminal charges in New York in a separate case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg involving the payment of hush money during Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The United States is now facing an unprecedented situation: a former president who was impeached twice and is now facing multiple indictments as he attempts to run again for the White House.

The federal case was brought by special counsel Jack Smith, who observed Tuesday’s proceedings in the Miami courtroom.

After Trump was freed without bail, he flew to his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, where he gave a speech claiming he’s the victim of political persecution. During the same address, Trump threatened to carry out his own political persecutions if he is elected president in 2024.

DONALD TRUMP: I will appoint a real special prosecutor to go after the most corrupt president in the history of the United States of America, Joe Biden, and the entire Biden crime family. Name a special prosecutor.

CROWD: Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up! Lock him up!

DONALD TRUMP: And all others involved with the destruction of our elections, our borders and our country itself. They’re destroying our country.

AMY GOODMAN: While many Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates are defending Donald Trump, Trump’s former Attorney General William Barr appeared on Fox News Sunday, said Trump is, quote, “toast” if the allegations set out in the indictment are true.

WILLIAM BARR: I think the counts under the Espionage Act, that he willfully retained those documents, are solid counts. Now, I do think we have to wait and see what the defense says and what proves to be true, but I do think that even half of what Andy McCarthy said, which — if even half of it is true, then he’s toast. I mean, it’s a pretty — it’s a very detailed indictment, and it’s very, very damning.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the arraignment of Donald Trump, we’re joined by Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW. He’s formerly prosecuted public corruption cases for the Department of Justice.

Noah, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to what happened yesterday in that Miami courtroom? Is it fair to say that President Trump was arraigned and arrested? Is that accurate?

NOAH BOOKBINDER: It is accurate. As a technical matter, you know, he came in. He was arraigned. You know, he was — he wasn’t arrested in the sense of being picked up at his house and hauled in or anything like that, but he was processed, booked, as part of having been charged in federal court. And that’s an extraordinary thing. That’s never happened to a former president of the United States.

It is something that I think those of us who have been watching President — former President Trump carefully for a number of years have foreseen, because he’s someone who committed, or at least was credibly alleged to have committed, so many offenses in the course of his presidency and his run for the presidency and his run for reelection, that in some ways this felt inevitable. But what an extraordinary thing to happen in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about how extraordinary it was, how unusual this is, and the significance of this.

NOAH BOOKBINDER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think a lot of it starts with the indictment itself. It’s really a remarkable document. Even for somebody who’s read a lot of federal criminal indictments, this was like nothing I had ever seen before. You know, it spells out how significant these documents were that Donald Trump had in his possession at Mar-a-Lago, and knowingly had. These were nuclear capabilities of the United States and allies. They were potential military plans. So, that’s extraordinary.

These scenes that are described in the indictment of Donald Trump showing highly, highly classified documents to somebody from his political action committee, to journalists that he was meeting with, people with no clearance, and talking about how these were secret documents that were classified, that he really shouldn’t be showing — it’s a scene that’s hard to imagine with a president of the United States. The sort of shocking description of boxes being moved at Donald Trump’s instruction to hide them from his own lawyers and from the Department of Justice, you know, it’s like something from a movie rather than something from real life.

You know, there are the kind of incredible parts of that indictment going through all of the times that Donald Trump in 2016 talked about how important it was for a president to understand our laws about classified documents and to follow those and enforce them, showing this is not somebody who didn’t know what was going on here. And so, it really is — you know, lays out a remarkable case. It has pictures of these boxes including classified documents on the stage in the ballroom at Mar-a-Lago. It is a remarkably crafted indictment that sets out a unique and kind of shocking set of facts.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the uniqueness of these charges, Noah Bookbinder, you’ve pointed out that Donald Trump was not charged with the retention of any of the documents he returned voluntarily, so none of his charges are for the kind of conduct, for example, that President Biden or former Vice President Pence or others had of retaining documents for a period of time but then giving them back. Could you talk further about that?

NOAH BOOKBINDER: That’s absolutely right. I mean, there are really key differences between what President Trump is alleged and what the evidence suggests that he likely did and what we understand happened with people like President Biden and former Vice President Pence. First of all, the number of documents is of a whole different scale. The fact that there seems to be a lot of evidence that he knew that he had these documents, that he kept them intentionally, whereas with President Biden, with former Vice President Pence, the evidence, as we understand it, suggests that they inadvertently took these documents, that as soon as they found out about them, they cooperated completely with investigators. They returned the documents. That’s not what happened with President Trump.

But as you pointed out, the really key factor is that, even putting aside what Donald Trump knew and how many documents were at issue, he wasn’t charged with the well over a hundred documents that he kept for many, many months at Mar-a-Lago but then did return voluntarily, which would look sort of like, on a larger scale, the kinds of things that happened with President Biden and former Vice President Pence. Instead, he was only charged in connection with those documents that he continued to keep, knowing that the Department of Justice was requesting them, actually had gotten a grand jury subpoena for them. And at that point, he continued to keep them. He instructed people, apparently, to hide them. And so, this is — it is his obstruction, his willful obstruction, based on the evidence that we understand, that led to this place. It’s quite likely, it appears from this indictment, that if — when first the National Archives and then the Department of Justice requested those documents back, if he had just given them back, he wouldn’t have been facing these charges. But he didn’t do that. He chose, knowing full well that he wasn’t supposed to have these documents, that the government wanted them back, to continue to keep them. And he took extraordinary steps to keep them from the government.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you also about what happens from here on in. Clearly, it’s in the government’s interest to move to trial as quickly as possible, especially in light of the fact that Trump is running for president again. And it’s in Trump’s interest to delay the proceedings as much as possible. I’m wondering your sense of what will unfold.

NOAH BOOKBINDER: Yeah, absolutely. The federal government is subject to legislation called the Speedy Trial Act, which says that a case is actually supposed to go to trial within 70 days of an indictment. Now, there are lots of things that can stop that count of 70 days, and a lot of those are in place to protect a defendant, to make sure a defendant has a right to thoroughly make their case and explore the government’s case. And so, when a defendant files motions, whether it’s to dismiss the case or whether it’s to keep out certain kinds of evidence, the counting for that 70-day period stops.

I think that you’re right that the prosecutors are going to try to move this as quickly as possible, understanding that they don’t want to be in a situation of having a trial as elections are approaching. And Donald Trump, for years, in civil litigation of all kinds, has used delay tactics. He’s a master at it. And I certainly expect that that will be the case here, that he will move to have the charges thrown out. He will challenge every aspect of this prosecution.

I do think that it is eminently possible for this case to go to trial and get through trial well before the 2024 election. Obviously, there aren’t cases similar to this, but looking at other complicated, high-profile cases, like, for instance, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, two associates of Donald Trump who went to trial, both of those were completed within a year of when they were indicted. This case, for all its extraordinary nature, is not a terribly complicated case, and there’s no reason that it shouldn’t be able to come to trial within a year or so. But I do think that Donald Trump will do everything in his power to delay, because that’s what he tends to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Everyone knows the saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” And this point you’re making of him wanting to delay it, I have a couple questions on this. Right now he is charged with his co-conspirator Walt Nauta, who is called his “body man,” right? He did not plead yesterday. He did not have a local lawyer. Could, if he has to get that lawyer, that lawyer say, “I need maybe up to three months or something to get ready,” and a judge, who is clearly extremely pro-Trump and appointed by Trump — right? — Judge Aileen Cannon, also, if she wants to delay this, certainly is in charge of that schedule? Now, yesterday, the judge was Judge Jonathan Goodman, the magistrate judge. But what happened with Nauta, and also his warning that Trump, who came in with Nauta, drove in with Nauta, left with Nauta, is not allowed to talk to Nauta or other witnesses? And will their trials be separate?

NOAH BOOKBINDER: So, I think a lot of this, we’re just starting to figure out, and I think the court is just starting to figure out. You know, I think that Nauta not coming in with an attorney who was — you know, who was a local attorney who could stand in that court, this is a pretty standard stuff. The court can pretty quickly either compel Nauta to find an attorney or help him to find an attorney. That happens — that kind of thing happens all the time. It can be pretty quickly resolved, and I expect that it will be.

You know, Judge Cannon, in the earlier litigation about the search of Mar-a-Lago, issued these really extraordinary decisions in Donald Trump’s favor, which were so contrary to the law that an appeals panel, which included several judges also appointed by President Trump, not only reversed her, but in really, really harsh terms. So, that’s obviously cause for some concern. That said, that’s already happened. And, you know, I think Judge Cannon, I believe and hope, will be chastised by what happened before — it actually happened in two separate rounds — and, I believe, will feel some need to preside over this matter in a way that is fair and legally proper. She will certainly have a lot of control over the schedule. That’s something that is a bit worrisome, that, obviously, we’ll all have to keep an eye on. But I think that special prosecutor Jack Smith will be watching closely, that if she does anything that seems out of line with the law, he will go back up to the 11th Circuit, to the court of appeals that oversees the district court in Florida, and I expect that they will not hesitate to act again if it gets to that point, which I hope that it doesn’t.

As far separate trials, I think it’s too early to say. And, you know, I do think that that order —

AMY GOODMAN: Meaning could they flip —

NOAH BOOKBINDER: — as to not talking —

AMY GOODMAN: Could they flip Walt Nauta?

NOAH BOOKBINDER: I think that is certainly a possibility. I mean, the facts in this indictment are, as I said, really unusual, and the evidence seems very, very strong. Most defendants would have pled guilty already. You know, people in situations like Donald Trump, but in many cases much, much less severe, have quickly pled guilty. I don’t expect Donald Trump to do that. That’s not his style. Nauta, I don’t think any of us know all that much about Walt Nauta. Certainly, based on the evidence, you would expect him to quickly plead guilty, but he does seem to have an awful lot of loyalty to Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly —

NOAH BOOKBINDER: It is a sort of a difficult situation — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: We don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask you about CREW pursuing —


AMY GOODMAN: — Trump’s disqualification to run for president under the 14th Amendment. Can you explain?

NOAH BOOKBINDER: Yeah, absolutely. So, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution has a provision that was put in after the Civil War that says that if you swore an oath to defend the Constitution and then you engaged in insurrection, you are disqualified from federal or state office, including the presidency. It was meant to say that people who try to overthrow a government are not then allowed to be in charge of that same government.

And that is something that is very much good law today. My organization, CREW, was actually able to go to court in New Mexico and get a decision that a county commissioner in New Mexico who participated in the January 6, 2021, insurrection was removed from office and disqualified from future office. And that’s something that, by its facts, should apply, we believe does apply, to Donald Trump.

And it’s going to be really important. Even if he is convicted of federal offenses, that doesn’t prohibit him from running for president. It doesn’t prohibit him from serving for president. But the Constitution does. And, you know, it’s crucial to protect this country from future insurrections, future efforts to overturn elections. And we believe that enforcing this really important, even if largely forgotten, provision of the Constitution is a crucial way to make sure that that doesn’t happen, going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: And last question. We just have 20 seconds. You have the president — Republican presidential candidates that continue to defend him, and then you have people like Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under Trump, the former South Carolina governor, sort of flipping a bit and saying, well, if it’s serious, if it’s true, President Trump was reckless, but that if she became president, she would pardon him. And this has been floated several times by candidates. What about that?

NOAH BOOKBINDER: Well, look, these are all people who in the past have talked about, certainly, the importance of national security, the importance of protecting classified information. I think it’s hard for them to now come out and say it doesn’t matter. And so, it is — at least a little bit of a shift makes some sense. It is hard to know what to do with a former president who appears to have violated the criminal law. It is difficult for the country. I don’t think that a pardon is appropriate here, because I think you do need accountability for this kind of lawlessness. But it’s good to see candidates at least struggling with these issues, rather than simply defending Donald Trump at all costs.

AMY GOODMAN: Noah Bookbinder, we want to thank you for being with us, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, formerly prosecuted public corruption cases at the Department of Justice.

Coming up, while Donald Trump was freed without bail for violating the Espionage Act, we’ll look at how whistleblowers Reality Winner, Daniel Hale and others were treated very differently. Back in 30 seconds.

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Next story from this daily show

The Espionage Act: Could Trump Indictment Lead to Changes to 1917 Law Used to Jail Whistleblowers?

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