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Trump to fly to Florida to face charges in documents case

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By Nathan Layne and Susan Heavey

(Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump flies to Miami on Monday to face criminal charges of unlawfully keeping U.S. national-security documents and lying to officials who tried to recover them, in a case that so far has powered rather than hampered his re-election hopes.

Trump is scheduled to appear in a Miami federal courthouse on Tuesday at 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT) for an initial appearance in the case. He has proclaimed his innocence and has vowed to continue his campaign to regain the presidency in the 2024 presidential election.

Trump, who turns 77 on Wednesday, said he would fly from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, to another golf club he owns outside of Miami, where his supporters were gathering for a noon rally.

“We must all be STRONG and DEFEAT the Communists, Marxists, and Radical Left Lunatics that are systematically destroying our Country,” he wrote on his Truth Social social-media platform.

His legal woes have yet to dent his popularity among Republican voters, and opinion polls show him far ahead of his rivals for the party’s presidential nomination. So far, they have largely sided with him.

He spoke to an enthusiastic crowd in Georgia over the weekend and his campaign said he would make a statement on Tuesday night, when he returns to New Jersey.

With memories fresh of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol, officials have raised security concerns. Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, a Republican, was due to discuss security at a 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT) press conference.

Special Counsel Jack Smith accuses Trump of taking thousands of papers containing some of the nation’s most sensitive national-security secrets when he left the White House in January 2021 and storing them in a haphazard manner at his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate, according to a grand jury indictment released last week.

Photos included in the indictment show boxes of documents stored on a ballroom stage, in a bathroom and strewn across a storage-room floor.

The indictment alleges Trump lied to officials who tried to get them back.

Trump is the first former or current president to face criminal charges, but legal experts say that does not prevent him from running for president – or taking office even if he is found guilty.

Legal experts, including Trump’s former attorney general William Barr, say the case is a strong one. The charges include violations of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes unauthorized possession of defense information, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Any federal trial in Florida may not take place until after the November 2024 presidential election. Trump also is due to go on trial in March 2024 in a separate case in New York state court, stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star.

Trump accuses Democratic President Joe Biden of orchestrating the case to undermine his campaign. Biden has kept his distance from the case and declines to comment on it.

Smith, the special counsel leading the prosecution, is given a greater degree of independence than other Justice Department prosecutors, to try to minimize political factors. He is also investigating Trump’s effort to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Jacqueline Thomsen; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Howard Goller)

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