Dressed in a blue suit and red tie, a serious-faced Donald Trump was seated beside his defense attorneys in a courtroom to once again confront criminal charges, marking his second time since his presidential term ended.
The ex-president, wearing a faint frown, attentively listened as the prosecution asserted that he had illegally owned and hidden classified papers. This is an unprecedented event where a former president is confronting federal criminal allegations.
Within the Miami courtroom, all cameras, mobile phones, and laptops were prohibited, and no photographs were taken during Mr Trump’s arraignment.
Only moments prior, the US Marshals had handled Mr Trump in the same way as any other accused, recording his fingerprints, birth date, and home address.
Yet, no mugshot was captured. According to officials, Mr Trump’s fame rendered an extra picture unnecessary.
Although recognized for his “bombastic oratorical style”, the former president did not speak a single word during his arraignment, not even to pronounce a plea.
“We most certainly enter a plea of not guilty,” announced Todd Blanche, one of his legal representatives.
Seated at the same desk with Mr Trump was Waltine Nauta, his personal aide whom federal prosecutors have accused as an accomplice. Despite travelling to the court together, the pair seemed to have no interaction in the courtroom.
Occupying a seat in the second row on the opposing side was Jack Smith, the special counsel from the Justice Department, who just recently revealed the startling charges of Mr Trump stashing classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago property.
Similarly, he remained silent, allowing attorney David Harbach to steer the government’s case.
Although a dramatic scene, the courtroom was saturated with silence, broken only by the hum of the air-conditioning system until the judge made his appearance at 14:55 local time.
Judge Jonathan Goodman initiated the proceedings, presiding effectively and assertively.
The purpose of the arraignment hearing was twofold: to record the defendants’ pleas, and to determine their bond conditions by the judge.
The most substantial act Mr Trump executed on Tuesday was the signing of his bond agreement. A court officer handed the document to one of Mr Trump’s attorneys, who then passed it to the former president.
Mr Trump skimmed it promptly, with his attorneys peering over his shoulder.
He endorsed the papers, thereby acknowledging the conditions of his release, with a decisive signature.
The bond sparked a debate
Both Mr Trump and Mr Nauta were granted what is termed as a “personal surety bond”. Judge Goodman released Mr Trump and Mr Nauta without imposing any travel restrictions, or requiring them to surrender their passports or deposit a cash bond.
Initially, Judge Goodman ruled that Mr Trump would be prohibited from contacting a list of witnesses to be supplied by the prosecutors.
However, as the list was not yet compiled, Mr Trump’s legal team countered that it would be “impossible” for him not to have contact with potential witnesses who are likely to be his staff or associates.
Finally, Judge Goodman attempted to accommodate Mr Trump by deciding that he would be barred from discussing case-related matters with these yet-to-be-named witnesses.
If the list of forbidden witnesses seemed “unwieldy”, Mr Goodman added, Mr Trump could challenge it.
Today, Mr Nauta did not make a plea since his attorney was not yet certified to practice law in the Southern District of Florida.
Instead, he was freed on bond and his own arraignment has been deferred until June 27.
The hearing was expeditious
Despite its historical importance, the hearing proceeded rather swiftly, concluding in just 50 minutes.
“My involvement in the case ends just about now,” Judge Goodman declared at 15:45 local time, punctuating the statement with a tap of his watch. Another judge is expected to oversee future proceedings.
As everyone in the courtroom stood up, Mr Trump was swiftly escorted through a side exit by his security detail, where a motorcade awaited him.
Shortly after Mr Trump’s exit, Mr Smith, the special prosecutor, exited the courtroom without uttering a single word.