It will at once be a routine matter for a federal courthouse — and an extraordinary one.
Former President Donald J. Trump is expected to appear at a federal courthouse on Tuesday afternoon in South Florida over charges related to his handling of government documents after he left office. Federal cases are arraigned every day, but this will be the first in American history against a former president.
For now, much remains uncertain about how the matter will unfold in the coming days.
The indictment itself remains sealed, and what the public knows is from people familiar with the matter, including a lawyer for Mr. Trump. But it is said to have seven charges or counts, including unauthorized retention of secret documents, obstruction, and false statements.
It is not clear, for example, whether the indictment will be unsealed before the arraignment or whether the special counsel leading the investigation, Jack Smith, will hold a news conference beforehand.
Another question is what federal authorities will do when Mr. Trump surrenders on Tuesday. A previous indictment of Mr. Trump offers some clues: In April, he was arraigned in state court in New York in connection with a payoff to an adult film star just before the 2016 election.
Often, people taken into custody before an initial appearance may be handcuffed, fingerprinted and photographed for a mug shot. In New York, however, Mr. Trump was fingerprinted, but he was not handcuffed or photographed.
At the hearing itself, Mr. Trump, who is used to commanding the room, both as a business man and commander in chief, will not be in charge. He will stand quietly next to his lawyer until a judge gives him permission to speak.
Typically, a defendant makes an initial appearance in court but says little and does not enter a plea, returning for an arraignment. But Richard Serafini, a former federal prosecutors who now works as a lawyer in Miami, said it is possible that Mr. Trump’s legal team and prosecutors could enter a plea on Tuesday, eliminating the need to return until a detention hearing.
Even as Mr. Trump has said that the hearing will be at 3 p.m., when most of the business at the court has concluded, Mr. Serafini said he expects it to mobbed.
“It will be an event much like New York,” he said. “Everything will well choreographed and happen quickly. It will be preplanned and the U.S. Marshals will be very careful about who gets let into the courthouse.”
Another unknown is how the case’s assignment to Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a Trump appointee who has issued a series of rulings unusually favorable to the former president, will play out.
It remains unclear how Judge Cannon received the assignment. Mr. Smith could acquiesce to her overseeing the case, or he could take the extraordinary — and risky — step of trying to challenge her role.