Trump indicted in classified documents case, a historic first for a former president

MIAMI (AP) — Donald Trump has been charged with mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate, a remarkable development that makes him the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges by the federal government that he once oversaw.

The Justice Department was set to release a seven-count indictment ahead of a historic court appearance next week amid a 2024 presidential campaign punctuated by criminal prosecutions in multiple states.

The indictment carries unquestionably serious legal consequences, including the possibility of a prison sentence if Trump is found guilty.

But it also has huge political implications, potentially upending a Republican presidential primary that Trump had dominated and again testing the will of GOP voters and party leaders to stick with a now twice indicted candidate who could do facing even more charges. And it sets the stage for a sensational trial centering on allegations that a man once tasked with protecting the nation’s best-kept secrets deliberately and illegally amassed sensitive national security information.

The Justice Department did not immediately publicly confirm the indictment. But two people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to discuss it publicly said the indictment included seven counts. One such person said Trump’s attorneys were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform Thursday that he had been indicted.

Minutes after his announcement, Trump, who said he was due in court on Tuesday afternoon in Miami, began raising money for his presidential campaign. He declared his innocence in a video and repeated his familiar refrain that the investigation is a “witch hunt”.

The case adds to heightened legal danger for Trump, who has already been indicted in New York and faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that could also lead to criminal charges. But of the various investigations he faces, legal experts — as well as Trump’s own aides — have long viewed the Mar-a-Lago investigation as the most perilous and mature threat to prosecution. Campaign aides had been bracing for the fallout since Trump’s lawyers were told he was the target of the investigation, assuming it was not a question of whether charges would be brought, but when.

Appearing Thursday night on CNN, Trump’s attorney James Trusty said the indictment includes charges of willfully withholding national defense information – a crime under the Espionage Act, which governs the handling of government secrets – obstruction, misrepresentation and conspiracy.

The investigation took a big step forward last November when Attorney General Merrick Garland, a soft-spoken former federal judge who has long said no one should be considered above the law, appointed Jack Smith , a war crimes prosecutor with an aggressive, tireless reputation for leading both the investigation into the documents and a separate investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The case is a milestone for a Justice Department that had investigated Trump for years — as president and a private citizen — but had never before charged him with a crime. The most notable probe was an earlier investigation by a special counsel into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia, but prosecutors in that probe cited Justice Department policy against indicting a president. in exercise. Once he left office, however, he lost that protection.

The indictment stems from a months-long investigation into whether Trump broke the law by keeping hundreds of documents marked as classified at his Palm Beach property, Mar-a-Lago, and whether Trump took measures to hamper the government’s efforts to recover the records.

Prosecutors said Trump brought about 300 classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House, including about 100 that were seized by the FBI last August during a search of the home that underscored the seriousness of the Department of Justice’s investigation. Trump repeatedly insisted he had the right to keep the documents classified when he left the White House, and also claimed without evidence that he had declassified them.

Court records unsealed last year showed federal investigators believed they had probable cause that several crimes had been committed, including withholding national defense information, destroying government documents and obstructing .

Since then, the Justice Department has amassed additional evidence and obtained grand jury testimony from people close to Trump, including his own attorneys. Laws governing the handling of classified records and obstruction are crimes that can result in years in prison if convicted.

Even so, it’s unclear how much it will hurt Trump’s position given that his first indictment generated millions of dollars in contributions from angry supporters and did not weaken him in the polls.

The former president has long sought to use his legal troubles to his political advantage, complaining on social media and at public events that cases were being driven by Democratic prosecutors to damage his 2024 election campaign. He is likely to build on that playbook again, reviving his longstanding claims that the Justice Department — which during his presidency investigated whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia — is somehow armed against him.

Trump’s legal troubles extend beyond the New York indictment and the classified documents case.

Smith is separately investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. And the Fulton County District Attorney in Georgia is investigating Trump over alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election in this State.

Signs had been piling up for weeks that an indictment was near, including a Monday meeting between Trump’s lawyers and Justice Department officials. His lawyers had also recently been told he was the target of the investigation, the clearest sign yet that an indictment was looming.

Although the bulk of the investigative work was done in Washington, with a grand jury meeting there for months, it recently emerged that prosecutors were presenting evidence before a separate panel in Florida, where many alleged acts of obstruction examined by prosecutors took place. .

The Justice Department said Trump repeatedly resisted efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration to retrieve the documents. After months of back and forth, Trump officials returned 15 boxes of documents in January 2022, including about 184 documents that officials say bore classified marks.

FBI and Justice Department investigators issued a subpoena in May 2022 for classified documents that remained in Trump’s possession. But after a lawyer for Trump provided three dozen documents and claimed a diligent search of the property had been conducted, officials came to suspect that even more documents remained.

The investigation had simmered for months before making headlines in remarkable fashion last August. That’s when FBI agents served a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago and removed 33 boxes containing classified files, including top secret documents hidden in a storage room and desk drawer and shuffled with personal effects. Some files were so sensitive that investigators needed enhanced security clearances to review them, the Justice Department said.

The Trump investigation had appeared complicated — politically, if not legally — by the discovery of documents with classified marks in the Delaware home and former Washington office of President Joe Biden, as well as in the home of former Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana. The Justice Department recently told Pence he would not face charges, while a second special counsel continues to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents.

But compared to Trump, there are key differences in the facts and legal issues surrounding Biden and Pence’s handling of the documents, including the fact that representatives for both men claim the documents were voluntarily turned over to investigators as soon as they were found. In contrast, investigators quickly focused on whether Trump, who for four years as president has expressed contempt for the FBI and the Justice Department, had sought to obstruct the investigation by refusing submit all requested documents.


Tucker reported from Washington. Colvin reported from Des Moines, Iowa.

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