The Justice Department made history on Friday, dropping a 37-count indictment against former President Donald Trump related to his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.
No other president has ever faced federal charges, let alone the prospect of a lengthy prison sentence if convicted (an aide, Walt Nauta, has also been accused of helping Trump cover up files).
Trump’s first court appearance in the case is scheduled for Tuesday in Miami; a trial could begin as he is in the middle of his third presidential run. Trump is currently leading the Republican field by a wide margin.
The 49-page indictment was prepared by Special Counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed last year by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Smith had made no public statement until a Friday press conference, where he accused Trump of “criminal violations of our national security laws, as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.” .
Here’s what you need to know about his indictment.
National security risk
When he left the White House in 2021, Trump took boxes of sensitive documents with him to Mar-a-Lago, his golf resort and residence in South Florida. These documents should have been handed over to the National Archives.
Trump’s apparent inability or unwillingness to grasp the need to protect classified information is at the heart of the Smith case, as the indictment makes clear:
“The classified documents that TRUMP stored in its boxes included information regarding the defense and armament capabilities of the United States and foreign countries; US nuclear programs; the potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.
“Unauthorized release of these classified documents could jeopardize U.S. national security, foreign relations, the safety of U.S. military and human sources, and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence-gathering methods,” he said. he continued.
Careless Storage and Disclosure
Smith’s indictment is all the more damning as it includes photographs of the boxes in question stacked in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom or on a ballroom stage.
In one photograph, documents are seen escaping from an overturned box.
Trump also discussed classified documents with the visitors. Smith obtained a recording of Trump speaking with a visitor to his golf club in Bedminster, NJ:
TRUMP showed and described a “plan of attack” that TRUMP said had been prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official. TRUMP told the individuals the plan was “highly confidential” and “secret.” TRUMP also said, “As president, I could have declassified it and, ‘Now I can’t, you know, but it’s still a secret.
This recording contradicts claims that Trump did not know the documents in his possession were secret. On the contrary, he seemed to revel in that very fact.
Attempt to conceal
According to the indictment, Trump tried to avoid having to turn over records even after the FBI issued a subpoena.
“Wouldn’t it be better,” he asked one of his lawyers in 2022, “if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”
Trump supporters have argued that his behavior is not materially different from that of other officials, including President Biden, who have been less than scrupulous in handling classified documents.
Smith, however, argued that malicious intent was at work: “The purpose of the conspiracy was for TRUMP to keep the classified documents he took with him from the White House and hide and conceal them from a large federal jury.”
What comes around…
During his 2016 campaign, Trump attacked his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, who sent some 33,000 emails from a private email server while she was secretary of state in the president’s administration. Barak Obama.
The emails inspired elaborate conspiracy theories, but also appeared at the time to legitimize long-standing concerns about Clinton’s reliability.
Trump has promised a more competent and professional regime. “In my administration, I will enforce all laws regarding the protection of classified information,” he said at a rally in August 2016. “No one will be above the law.
In the indictment, however, Trump praised the Clinton staffer he credits with suppressing Clinton’s emails.
A quick trial?
“My office will request an expeditious trial in this matter, consistent with the public interest and the rights of the accused,” Smith said at Friday’s press conference.
For now, the case has been assigned to Florida District Judge Aileen Cannon, whom Trump nominated to the federal bench in 2020. Some legal observers say she should recuse herself, but it’s unclear that she intends to do so.
That trial could begin as Trump tries to cement his position as the Republican presidential candidate in next year’s election.