Trump appears at federal court in Florida for closed hearing in his classified documents case

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FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — Seeking to turn legal problems into political gain, former President Donald Trump arrived Monday to a crowd of supporters at a federal courthouse in Florida for a closed hearing in the criminal case charging him with mishandling classified documents.

His motorcade left after several hours as supporters called his name.

In the latest mixing of court appearances into Trump's election-season calendar, supporters with signs and flags assembled outside a courthouse barricade as a Trump campaign message to allies with the subject line of “I'm in court. Again!” warned that unspecified opponents “want me arrested” and “erased from the ballot.”

The message reinforced his team's strategy of politicizing his four criminal prosecutions, including in Florida, where he faces dozens of felony counts accusing him of hoarding highly classified records at his Mar-a-Lago estate and obstructing FBI efforts to get them back.

Monday’s court date was scheduled as a procedural hearing, closed to the public, to discuss the procedures for handling classified evidence in the trial currently set for May 20. U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon set arguments in the morning from defense lawyers and in the afternoon from prosecutors, each outside of the other's presence.

“Defense counsel shall be prepared to discuss their defense theories of the case, in detail, and how any classified information might be relevant or helpful to the defense,” Cannon wrote in scheduling the hearing.

The closed hearing comes as prosecutors have also revealed that a prospective government witness has received threats over social media that are now the subject of federal investigation.

Trump's motorcade arrived at the courthouse in Fort Pierce shortly after 9 a.m. Supporters outside held signs with messages including “Trump 2024” and “Florida is Trump Country.” He left the building in his motorcade after 2 p.m. while supporters shouted his name.

The hearing is one of several voluntary court dates that Trump has attended in recent weeks — he was present, for instance, at appeals court arguments last month in Washington — as he looks to demonstrate to supporters that he intends to fight his criminal prosecutions while also seeking to reclaim the White House this November.

In addition to the Florida case, Trump faces charges in Atlanta and Washington related to efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He's also charged in state court in New York in connection with hush money payments made to porn actor Stormy Daniels. He has denied any wrongdoing.


Tucker reported from Washington.