Trump faces 37 charges over classified Mar-a-Lago documents

The special prosecutor also charged one of the former president’s collaborators in the case stemming from the Mar-a-Lago classified documents probe. The former president will appear in court next Tuesday in Miami

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks on the phone during a visit to a Washington golf course on May 27.Kyle Mazza (Contacto / europa press)
Iker Seisdedos

Former U.S. President Donald Trump faces 37 charges for allegedly committing seven federal crimes in handling classified documents he reportedly took without permission to his Mar-a-Lago mansion when he left the White House in 2021. The full contents of the indictment, which specifies the charges (some thirty of them referring to alleged document retention), were made public by the Justice Department this Friday. It is a 49-page document full of juicy details, such as the places where he kept those Mar-a-Lago papers: a bedroom, a bathroom, a ballroom and a storage room.

There is proof of all this in photos accompanying the charge sheet. They show dozens of boxes, apparently full of secret or classified papers, in the most unsuspected places: stacked and blocking access to a shower, open with the contents strewn on the floor next to a guitar case, or carefully placed one on top of the other until they touch the ceiling of the typical clutter room.

Trump is scheduled to be arraigned next Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the Wilkie D. Ferguson federal courthouse, a glass building in downtown Miami, where the anticipation was already running high on Friday. He is charged with seven federal crimes, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, malicious retention of national security documents, forgery and violation of the Espionage Act.

Some prominent voices of the Republican Party, with former vice-president Mike Pence taking the lead, had been calling for the charges to be made public from the very beginning. They consider that transparency is the only possible tool to ward off suspicions that this, his second indictment in three months and the first for federal crimes against a former president, hides a political persecution. After all, the indictment comes from special prosecutor Jack Smith, appointed by the Justice Department, who is part of Joe Biden’s administration. And at this point, all indications are that Biden and Trump will face off again in the 2024 presidential election.

Aileen Cannon is the judge (appointed in 2020 by the former president himself) who has initially been assigned to oversee a case that will be tried by a grand jury. She is an old acquaintance of the investigation. Chosen for the position during the Trump Administration, she will be in charge of leading the case and deciding what penalty to apply to Trump in the event that the grand jurors find him guilty. Cannon came under fire in September when she agreed to a request from Trump’s lawyers, who asked, as part of a ploy to stall the process, that a special examiner be appointed to review the documents, which meant preventing FBI agents from doing so. The order was later overturned by an appeals court, however.

This Friday, a day after the unprecedented indictment became known, the transcript of a 2021 recording in which he admitted that he had “secret” military information in his private residence also came to light. He also admits that he had not declassified it while he was president. “As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t,” Trump says in the meeting, according to the transcript published by CNN.

In the conversation, Trump, who has always claimed that the boxes he took from the White House contained declassified papers, speaks of a Pentagon document with a plan of attack on Iran. The transcript suggests that the former president is showing his counterpart(s) that file. “Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this,” Trump says at one point, according to the transcript. “This was done by the military and given to me.”

The context of the conversation involves the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. Shortly before the meeting, The New Yorker magazine had published a story that in the final days of Trump’s presidency, Milley warned his staff to be on the alert, in case Trump issued illegal orders. And that if he did, to report it immediately.

The transcription continues: “Well, with Milley — uh, let me see that, I’ll show you an example. He said that I wanted to attack Iran. Isn’t that amazing? I have a big pile of papers, this thing just came up. Look. This was him,” Trump says, according to the transcript. “They presented me this — this is off the record, but — they presented me this. This was him. This was the Defense Department and him. We looked at some. This was him. This wasn’t done by me, this was him.” Then the former president adds: “All sorts of stuff — pages long, look. Wait a minute, let’s see here. I just found, isn’t that amazing? This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this.”

Another development in the case was the late morning indictment of Walt Nauta, who worked as a military driver in the White House before following his boss to Mar-a-Lago. Nauta had long been in Smith’s sights after he was seen on security footage moving boxes at the former president’s residence after he received a subpoena in May 2022 to return all sensitive documents in his possession.

“A wonderful man”

Trump reacted to the announcement on his social network Truth Social with one of his trademark posts. “I have just learned that the “Thugs” from the Department of Injustice will be Indicting a wonderful man, Walt Nauta, a member of the U.S. Navy, who served proudly with me in the White House, retired as Senior Chief, and then transitioned into private life as a personal aide. He has done a fantastic job!”

The former president also shared news about his defense strategy, which is now in the hands of the lawyer Todd Blanche, and a law firm that, he said, will be announced later in this process (he has others pending, ranging from the illegal use of campaign funds to his role in the assault on the Capitol or his attempts to alter the outcome of the 2020 elections that resulted in Joe Biden’s victory). In the message, he also thanked the services provided by the previous legal team.

The current leading Republican candidate is preparing his defense at his golf club in Bedminster (New Jersey), and it is expected that in the next few hours, perhaps days, he will be on his way to his residence in Mar-a-Lago, located about 70 miles from the courthouse. There, as usual, a few of his staunchest supporters will be waiting for him.

On Friday, the cascade of reactions also continued. Some of his most conspicuous party colleagues, as well as rivals in the crowded Republican race to win the nomination for the 2024 elections — a race that Trump dominates comfortably so far — came out to defend or attack him.

Among the first to react, Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House of Representatives and the country’s third-highest authority, stood out, tweeting: “Today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America. It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades. I, and every American who believes in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.”

And among his rivals, Asa Hutchinson, former Republican governor of Arkansas and one of the former president’s opponents in the race for the White House, argued in a statement: “While Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence, the ongoing criminal proceedings will be a major distraction. This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign.”

There is nothing to indicate that he will do so, though. The law does not prohibit him from doing so, even if he ends up behind bars. In addition, after learning of the indictment, he launched another of his successful fundraising campaigns. The last time he went through a process like the one that awaits him next Tuesday in Miami, he stood out in the polls among Republican voters as the favorite candidate for his party’s nomination, with a double-digit percentage difference over his most direct competitor, Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida.

That was last April in New York. He was then charged with 34 counts of falsehood stemming from three payments to conceal separate scandals (most notably an extramarital affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels) in the 2016 campaign. A New York judge has set March 25, 2024, for the start of that trial. It is expected that this time something similar will happen, and that the process will be delayed for months, perhaps more than a year.

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