Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 37 charges that he unlawfully kept national security documents when he left office and lied to officials trying to recover them.
Trump appeared before a judge in Miami’s federal court just days after he became the first former US president charged with federal crimes.
Trump latest: Ex-president in court
US Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman allowed him to leave court without conditions or travel restrictions, and no bail was required.
Judge Goodman also ruled he was not allowed to communicate with potential witnesses in the case.
Authorities say Trump schemed and lied to block the government from recovering the documents, concerning nuclear programmes and other sensitive military secrets, stored at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Experts say it could be a year or more before a trial takes place. Trump is currently the frontrunner in the race to become the Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election.
His former aide and co-accused, Walt Nauta, did not enter a plea.
There were chaotic scenes as he left the courthouse, with supporters and protesters clashing and one man, dressed as a prison inmate in a black and white outfit, being led away by police after he tried to run in front of the convoy.
The ex-president also made a stop at a Cuban bakery after the hearing, where local community leaders blessed him in both English and Spanish.
Trump, who turns 77 on Wednesday, then posed for photographs with supporters, including UFC fighter Jorge Masvidal, and was filmed offering to buy food for everyone in the establishment, before the crowd burst into a rendition of “Happy Birthday”.
Speaking to the media, he described the US as “corrupt”, “in decline”, and “rigged”.
It was the second courtroom visit for Trump in recent months. In April, he pleaded not guilty to state charges in New York stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star.
Supporters wearing Make America Great Again hats and carrying American flags chanted “Miami for Trump” and “Latinos for Trump” as the motorcade paused outside the courthouse before the hearing.
A man could be heard chanting, “USA! USA!”
Authorities had prepared for possible violence, recalling the January 6th 2021 attack on the US Capitol, but Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told reporters that there had not been any security problems.
Trump has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence and accuses Democrat President Joe Biden’s administration of targeting him.
He called Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the prosecution, a “Trump hater” on social media on Tuesday.
“ONE OF THE SADDEST DAYS IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE!!!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform shortly before his motorcade left the Trump Doral hotel for the courthouse.
Smith accuses Trump of risking national secrets by taking thousands of sensitive papers with him when he left the White House in January 2021 and storing them in a haphazard manner at his Mar-a-Lago estate and his New Jersey golf club, according to a grand jury indictment.
Florida is ‘Trump country’ and it doesn’t seem that any indictment is going to change that
Trump indictment ‘shocking’ and portrays him as a ‘great threat’ to US defence
Trump arrives in Miami for court hearing over classified documents
Photos included in the indictment show boxes of documents stored on a ballroom stage, in a bathroom and strewn across a storage-room floor.
Those records included information about the secretive US nuclear programme and potential vulnerabilities in the event of an attack, the indictment said.
The 37-count indictment alleges Trump lied to officials who tried to get them back.
The indictment also alleges Trump conspired with Nauta to keep classified documents and hide them from a federal grand jury.
Nauta has worked for Trump at the White House and at Mar-a-Lago.