A grim Donald J. Trump leaned back from the defendant’s table in a crowded 13th-floor Miami courtroom on Tuesday, jaw clenched, arms crossed and back muscles visibly tense beneath his dark suit jacket.
About 20 feet away, in the second row of the visitors’ gallery, Jack Smith, the special counsel who had placed him there, sat alert and poker-faced. Mr. Smith watched as three Justice Department lawyers under his supervision offered Mr. Trump a bond agreement to release him on his own admission, without bail, which was respectful and accommodating, but deeply humble.
After a 50-minute courtroom encounter unlike any other in the history of the country, Mr. Trump exited through a side door recessed in dark wood paneling, but not before giving himself a curious look over his shoulder at the 40 or so reporters who covered the room were entered. .
About a minute later, Mr. Smith and his team walked across the room and left without a word. He didn’t look back.
The first-ever indictment against a former president on federal charges coincided with the first public meeting between the two men, Mr. Trump and Mr. Smith, at the center of the Mar-a-Lago documents case. The two didn’t say a word to each other. But these most disparate opponents are engaged in a legal battle with enormous political and legal implications for a polarized nation.
Mr. Trump’s body language in court suggested that he understood the seriousness of the situation. A former president who likes to be in control seemed uncomfortable with so few defendants.
Mr Trump, who has labeled his indictment a witch hunt and called Mr Smith a “thug”, did not say a word during the hearing. Nor did the examining magistrate, Jonathan Goodman, ask him any questions, as sometimes happens with criminal indictments.
Mr. Trump has promised to say more later. Several of his political aides were seen outside the courthouse, mingled with a small but boisterous group of supporters, who shouted their support over the chopping of a helicopter hovering above.
Inside, the hearing itself was a quiet and remarkably civil affair.
The former president, flanked by his two attorneys, Christopher M. Kise and Todd Blanche, waited patiently for at least 15 minutes for Judge Goodman to enter the courtroom. While Mr. Kise busied himself with paperwork, Mr. Trump and Mr. Blanche leaned in to whisper in each other’s ears, laughing once or twice. The former president seemed momentarily at ease.
But the mood changed abruptly at 2:45 p.m. A court official announced that the closed-circuit camera, which relayed the hearing to a fifth-floor jury conference room that had been taken over by the news media for the day, had been turned on. The former president froze and stared straight at the camera, as if recognizing the power of the lens.
Mr. Trump, who liked to appear in the White House flanked by flags, often in front of the presidential seal, was on the other side of the frame on Tuesday. Judge Goodman sat atop a marble dais, a few feet above everyone else, next to an American flag in the largest, state-of-the-art interrogation room at Wilkie D. Ferguson’s courthouse.
It is not clear how long Mr. Trump and his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, spent in court after being previously booked and electronically fingerprinted by US marshals at the building. But the country’s 45th president was sitting at his table, along with dozens of court and security officials, when reporters were ushered into the room shortly after 2:40 p.m.
Most of the content of the hearing focused on the details of the bond deal for Mr. Trump. Mr Smith’s senior prosecutors waived demands for bail or any other condition that could be considered undignified or overly restrictive. They insisted that Mr. Trump not discuss the matter with Mr. Nauta, who remains on the former president’s payroll as a personal assistant.
Judge Goodman pushed for a harder deal, suggesting that Trump should not have any contact with key witnesses. His lawyers replied that the witnesses included people from Mr Trump’s personal staff and security detail, and that it was unrealistic to ask him to cut off contact with them.
The prosecutor appeared willing to go along. David Harbach, one of Mr Smith’s senior prosecutors, asked the court to let the two sides work out the details at a later date. Two previous drafts of a bond deal had already been thrown out, but a third draft of the deal was printed and Mr. Trump signed it. “Third time is a charm,” Judge Goodman said.
The judge seemed to be the only contestant who seemed really relaxed, perhaps because he was the only one to walk away from the case. Another magistrate judge will preside over preliminary hearings before Judge Aileen M. Cannon takes over the trial.
“The good news is it won’t be me,” Judge Goodman said just before dismissing the parties.