No two criminal courts are exactly alike, as Donald Trump can now attest.
When the former US president appeared in federal court in downtown Miami on Tuesday to answer criminal charges that he mishandled classified documents after leaving office, there were many similarities to his appearance in a Manhattan court just over two months earlier.
Both were historic days that had become almost routine as processions paraded through the city streets and the former president was carried through the back entrances of the Courthouse. Once again, the tyrannical Trump has been reduced to a negative figure in a place where the judges and lawyers have done all the talking.
Both events spark fears of political violence in an American city only to lead to a macabre street carnival, filled with chlocky merchandise for sale, conspiracy theories galore and weird MAGA buddies. Where else can one find members of Blacks For Trump clenching fists from QAnon supporters while a man draped in Cuban and American flags stands nearby with a pig’s head on a plank?
Still, Miami is not New York. The Wilkie D Ferguson Jr Federal Courthouse was built only in 2007 and designed to resemble a cruise ship. It’s a place where Trump is widely adored – not resented. Indeed, Republicans captured the broader boycott in the November midterm elections for the first time in 20 years.
Unlike Trump’s first impeachment, the crowds that gathered outside the hearing on Tuesday were overwhelmingly there to embrace him. This is Miami, many of them were Latino—and, like Esperanza Quanta, an immigrant from Nicaragua, they were agitated by a dislike of socialism in the countries they or their parents had left behind. At Trump’s trial under a Democratic administration, they saw evidence of the same evil taking root on American soil.
“Do you know what Daniel Ortega did during the elections in Nicaragua? Quanta, a Trump supporter, told reporters outside the courtroom on Tuesday morning, referring to the authoritarian leader. “It is about to happen [here] If we don’t stop it.”
Maribel Gonzalez, a Dominican immigrant with two daughters and a small restaurateur, expressed a similar sentiment when she welcomed Trump’s motorcade Monday afternoon. “I don’t want America to turn into Cuba, Venezuela or Nicaragua,” Gonzalez said. “He is a good person. He was a good boss and he loves Latinos.”
The crowd appeared much smaller than the 5,000-50,000 Miami police chief had predicted the day before. Still, its hold was impressive — especially under the sweltering sun and suffocating humidity of South Florida in June.
Their numbers swelled throughout the day as Trump’s 3 p.m. appearance approached. In April, the former president spent the night before his trial at the iconic Trump Tower in Manhattan. This time, he stayed at the Trump National Doral golf resort, where he met with attorneys.
There was excitement when a convoy of five dark SUVs arrived at the courthouse just before 2 p.m. They were looking on at construction workers from the structural upper floors of a nearby tower and gym-goers on a towering balcony. Then, a few minutes into the clock, the guards announced that Trump had been booked.
Unlike most of the defendants, he was not photographed. This is because he is indeed one of the most popular people on the planet. Should he escape, there are enough materials to create a wanted poster. But he underwent digital fingerprinting.
He spent about an hour in the courtroom on the 13th floor — the same room fellow reality TV star Paris Hilton appeared in — seated between his attorneys, Christopher Case and Todd Blanche. His feathery cheeks gleamed golden under the glow of the mysterious illumination. He did not look at his opponent, Jack Smith, the special counsel, who sat across the aisle behind three federal prosecutors.
“Well, welcome to the Florida Southern District,” said Justice of the Peace Jonathan Goodman amiably.
Blanche pleaded not guilty on behalf of Trump. Most of the session was taken up by arguing over the terms of the former president’s release as he stared straight ahead, folded his arms and appeared to frown. He does not have to deposit a bond, surrender his passport, or restrict his travel. But the judge ordered no communication on the case with the government’s prospective list of witnesses or co-defendant Waltin Nauta, a former Marine turned White House butler who became an aide to the ex-president after leaving office.
At around 3.25pm, Trump signed the bond. “Take your time, guys,” Goodman urged simple, as the bailiff returned the document twice, once for Trump’s initials, and then for a witness signature by his attorney.
Then, after a brief discussion about Naota, it was over. At about 3.45pm the judge adjourned the hearing. Trump, dressed in a traditional blue suit, white shirt and red tie, posed briefly to reporters at the gallery. His expression was somewhere between stern and angry. He walked past and exited through a side door.
Moments later, his motorcade left to enthusiastic cheers but not before an anti-Trump protester dressed as a striped inmate and dripping a fake ball and chain threw himself in front of the former president’s car. Police arrested the man, Dominic Santana. He had also protested Trump’s arrival in Doral the night before.
“It must have been a plant,” a woman holding a Trump flag told two of their buddies as they walked toward their car.
En route to the airport, Trump paid his Latino supporters a surprise stop at Café Versailles, a popular Cuban-American restaurant in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood, where he posed for photos and embraced adoring supporters who sang “Happy Birthday.” Trump turns 77 on Wednesday.
“You see where the people are. We love people. And see where they are. You see the crowds,” excitedly.
Trump’s second impeachment may not be his last. Prosecutors general in Georgia and Washington are investigating his alleged attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and his role in instigating the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
As Trump’s legal troubles mount, former allies have been trying to perform the delicate process of pushing him aside for the GOP presidential nomination without offending his base. It is not yet clear what progress they are making – if any.
Shay Eagle, a pro-Trump video host from Alberta, Canada who attended the courtroom on Tuesday, described herself as a “truth seeker.” However, Eagle admitted that she did not bother to read the 44-page criminal indictment against the former president that was unsealed last week, and complained that it was too long.
Nor is her fiancé, Brian May. The two met a year ago at a rally of pro-Trump American and Canadian truck convoys, and have been working most recently in southwest Florida rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Ian last year.
Both said they were open to voting for Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, if Trump was found guilty. But leaving him will not be easy. “He represents us,” Mai explained.
Just as he did in April, the unwavering Trump was determined to have the last word. After leaving Florida, he flew to New Jersey and headed to the Bedminster Golf Club, where the fans were waiting.
“Today we have witnessed the most heinous and egregious abuse of power in the history of our country,” he said, ushering in a speech full of errors. He stated at one point: “I am not the person who thinks I am above the law. I followed the law. I’m the only one.”