Former President Donald Trump wanted to make a spectacle out of his Manhattan arraignment on criminal charges in April. Imagine what he might try to do on his home turf in South Florida with an entire five days to plan for it.
On Thursday evening, when Trump made the dramatic announcement on his social media platform that he'd been indicted by the Department of Justice, he made sure to include the details so his supporters could attend: The federal courthouse, Miami, 3 p.m., Tuesday.
As he did after his first indictment, Trump immediately began issuing calls to arms, of sorts, to his followers on Truth Social, calling it "a DARK DAY for the United States of America."
Within minutes, he was fundraising off of the news too, perhaps hoping to rake in even more cash than during his massive financial haul in the days between his indictment on hush money charges and his appearance at a heavily fortified Manhattan courthouse. His campaign boasted that Trump hauled in more than $4 million in the 24 hours after news of his indictment became public.
But what, exactly, might happen on Tuesday before, during and after Trump's initial court appearance as the first president in history to face federal felony charges? The short answer is that nobody knows.
Because Trump is the master of predictable unpredictability, he might decide to adopt a much more contentious approach than he did on April 4, when he ended his world-televised odyssey from Mar-a-Lago to Manhattan by quietly exiting his SUV and walking inside. On Friday, in fact, he tweeted out a Truth Social post saying, "SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY!!!"
Or the former president might try to rally his supporters as he's done on so many occasions, including on Jan. 6, 2021, before a bunch of them stormed the U.S. Capitol.
The latter scenario is possible but unlikely, according to security experts, former federal prosecutors and dedicated Trump watchers interviewed by USA TODAY.
Even so, "the range of possibilities are fairly open-ended – from a relatively uneventful arraignment where TV cameras outnumber protesters − to the ever-present potential for violence," said presidential historian Matt Dallek. "Trump has warned that the country wouldn't stand for his indictment, and now will be a test to see just how far he will go to stoke outrage and move his supporters to erupt in violence."
"I should add," Dallek said, "that because Florida is his home turf and a red state to boot, it's not inconceivable that large protests could materialize around his arraignment."
And then there's the specter of a Secret Service-led caravan to the Miami courthouse from Trump's Palm Beach residence, which could garner more rapt attention than the slow-speed police chase of O.J. Simpson in Los Angeles back in 1994.
Should Trump decide to be driven there, the heavily congested 70-mile trip could take a few hours, even at the best of times, according to former federal prosecutor Richard "Dick" Gregorie. On Friday afternoon, Trump indicated he would fly to Miami from his Bedminster, N.J. golf course and estate, and bring two reporters with him, the New York Times reported. More recently, there were reports that he would fly from Bedminster to Palm Beach and still make the long drive south to Miami.
Beating the war drums again?
Much of the spectacle from Trump's first indictment and arraignment occurred online and on the airwaves, as the former president decried the prospect of prosecution in any of the pending investigations into his conduct.
Trump was especially vitriolic about potentially facing charges for his handling of the classified documents he took with him when leaving the White House.
"I think if it happened, I think you’d have problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before," Trump told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview last September. "I don’t think the people of the United States would stand for it."
Could his remarks be construed as a call for violence, Hewitt asked? "That's not, that's not inciting," Trump replied. "I'm just saying what my opinion is."
When the New York indictment ultimately came, Trump denounced it as a politically motivated "Witch Hunt" that was nothing less than an assault on U.S. democracy. Yet, in the end, only a few supporters and looky-loos were on hand to watch Trump enter and, a short while later, exit the Manhattan courthouse.
Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director, believes the 1,000 or so arrests in Jan. 6-related cases probably have scared off most of those who might have considered violence then or now.
"We're seeing that that's had a chilling effect," Figliuzzi said on MSNBC Thursday night. "And we see that in chat rooms, we see violent extremists say, 'Hey, I don't want to get arrested. This could be a setup, I'm not going.' "
"So that's good news. The not-so-good news is that Trump has already started to show us where he's going with this," Figliuzzi said. "He's already done several posts on his own social media where he's saying, 'Hey, I'm a victim. They're not charging Biden, they're not gonna charge Pence. They're charging only me."
The FBI is closely watching the usual suspects, including members of the two organized groups convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 assault, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, Figliuzzi said, adding, "It's the lone offender that they can't control, that they can't get out in front of, that concerns them with regard to inciting rhetoric by Trump, by Marjorie Taylor Greene, by you name the far-right extremists."
Drama on the road to Miami?
If his first arraignment in state court in New York is any guide, Trump will try to draw the spotlight to himself, with an elaborate and globally televised trip from Mar-a-Lago to the courthouse, according to Dallek and other dedicated Trump watchers.
This court appearance, though, doesn't require a Secret Service-guarded limo ride to a municipal airport, on to Trump Force One and then a motorcade through the streets of New York. Instead, it could cause a traffic snarl for all the world to see.
Logistically, the possibility of Trump being driven all the way from Palm Beach down to Miami is enough to cause night sweats among the Secret Service officers who must protect Trump, the local police departments who'll need to provide crowd control along the route and ultimately the courthouse personnel who will have to lock down the facility, Gregorie said.
If Trump sticks with a plane for transportation, that could simplify things.
"He could stay here at one of the hotels. He's got the Trump golf course near the airport," said Gregorie, a Miami resident who retired in 2018 after more than four decades with the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Florida. "But if he stays in Palm Beach and drives all the way down, it'll take two hours, probably maybe an hour and a half if they can clear the road for him."
Gregorie prosecuted Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and a bevy of Colombian drug cartel kingpins in the same Miami courthouse. It can be as heavily fortified as the one in Manhattan, he said, with a well-trained staff accustomed to locking things down for a high-profile courthouse appearance.
"But it's going to be a zoo down there," Gregorie acknowledged. He knows from experience that the day's trials and court appearances run from early morning to about 2 p.m., and he suspects Trump was given a 3 p.m. time so at least some work could get done earlier in the day.
"My guess," he said, "is that the court will be closed for everything but that case on Tuesday."
Trump 'now in the major leagues'
In federal court, most defendants are brought before a judge for a preliminary appearance, with an arraignment scheduled later for them to enter a plea, said veteran former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official Gene Rossi. In Trump’s case, Rossi suspects that authorities will combine those two proceedings to eliminate the need for a second logistical headache.
Rossi also believes it will be a fast and perfunctory appearance with little room for drama or histrionics by Trump, as was also the case during his arraignment on state charges, to which Trump pleaded not guilty. He has signaled he will do it again on Tuesday, this time reportedly to charges including mishandling classified documents and obstructing government efforts to get them back.
But Rossi said that federal judges and prosecutors are far less likely to tolerate public attacks by Trump than the judge and prosecutors in the state case, including Manhattan District Atty. Alvin Bragg.
After leaving the Manhattan courthouse, Trump flew back to Miami and gave a fiery speech attacking Bragg as a "local failed district attorney. He even lit into Bragg's wife for social media posts he said were biased against him. And death threats followed Trump's public criticisms of the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, over his handling of a previous case.
So far, Trump has yet to suffer consequences for any of that.
“The state system is Triple A; he's now in the major leagues and he’s going before federal judges and career prosecutors,” Rossi said. “And he is going to have to watch himself, and what he says and what he does because they're not gonna play nice.”
“He can't make a mockery of the United States court system,” Rossi said. “If he does that, and starts attacking the judges and attacking the system and the prosecutors, he’s probably going to be going to jail on contempt of court charges.”
Trump already attacking his federal pursuers too
Trump already has begun using the same playbook in the federal case.
First, Trump bashed special counsel Jack Smith in a series of angry tweets on his Truth Social website, calling him "a Coward and a Thug!"
Then he went after Smith – and his wife – in his first post-indictment public speech on Saturday at the state Republican Party convention in Columbus, Ga.
Calling the charges “ridiculous and baseless,” Trump called the former Justice Department and war crimes prosecutor a “deranged lunatic” and a “psycho” for leading the investigation that led to his indictment Thursday over his handling of classified documents. And like he has done in the state case in New York, Trump also went after Smith’s wife, a documentary filmmaker.
"Ultimately, these are cowards, they're cowards. And he's a big Trump hater. Openly, he's a Trump hater," Trump said of Smith. "And his wife is even more of a Trump hater. I wish her a lot of luck. But he's a bad Trump hater and she's a Trump hater."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's surrender to federal charges is a wild card of possibilities