The former president of the United States, Donald Trump, has been charged with federal crimes in connection with the handling of classified documents that he illegally took to Mar-a-Lago, his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, and kept there despite requests to hand them over. He faces seven counts, according to his lawyers. Special counsel Jack Smith, appointed by the Justice Department, decided to take the historic step after completing his investigation. The indictment has been approved by a grand jury in Miami.
It was Trump himself who announced it on his own social media platform: “The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax, even though Joe Biden has 1850 Boxes at the University of Delaware, additional Boxes in Chinatown, D.C., with even more Boxes at the University of Pennsylvania, and documents strewn all over his garage floor where he parks his Corvette, and which is “secured” by only a garage door that is paper thin, and open much of the time,” he wrote in a post on Truth Social.
“I have been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami on Tuesday, at 3 PM. I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States... I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” he added. “This is indeed a DARK DAY for the United States of America. We are a Country in serious and rapid Decline, but together we will Make America Great Again!” Trump wrote in a third post before sharing a video just over four minutes long.
The Justice Department has not yet made public the charges against Trump, but his lawyers talked about seven counts, including conspiracy to obstruct justice, willful retention of documents in violation of the Espionage Act, and making false statements. The conspiracy charge may imply that someone else was involved and could also face charges, as explained by Trump lawyer Jim Trusty on CNN, who nevertheless insisted that rather than the indictment, what the legal team has in their hands right now is a summons from the Justice Department that “suggests what the seven charges would be” and asking Trump to be at the courthouse on Tuesday at 3 p.m.
Trump was already indicted on 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal scandals (one of them an extramarital affair with porn actress Stormy Daniels) during the 2016 presidential campaign. A New York judge has set the trial of the case for March 25.
This is the first time that a president or former president faces federal charges. Moreover, they are related to his time in office and come as he is leading the polls in the Republican primary before the 2024 presidential elections. In this sense, the Biden Administration’s Justice Department is criminally pursuing the person who is emerging as the current president’s potential rival in next year’s November elections.
News of the indictment did not come entirely as a surprise. Trump had already been preparing in recent days for the possibility. Prosecutors had formally informed his lawyers that he was the target of an investigation, and he himself reacted on Wednesday by declaring that he had done nothing wrong, that the accusations were a form of “electoral interference” aimed at stopping him from returning to the White House and that it was all a “witch hunt.”
The former president received the news at his golf club in Bedminster (New Jersey), where he has been in recent days. According to his lawyer, he received the news with disbelief and sadness, but aware that it was a historic moment. He will have to travel to Florida to appear in court on Tuesday.
Some of his allies reacted on Twitter on Thursday by calling the United States a “banana republic.” As for his rivals in the Republican primaries, some have remained silent, while there are those who have offered support and have pledged to pardon him if necessary, such as the businessman Vivek Ramaswamy. Others are openly attacking him, such as former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has called for the former president to withdraw from the race.
The indictment is a big leap forward in the case that led the FBI to search Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. At the time, the content of the search warrant revealed that Trump was being investigated for possible crimes of obstruction of justice, concealment, unauthorized removal and willful retention of public documents in violation of the Espionage Act. These are crimes that can carry fines and jail sentences.
The FBI agents who searched Trump’s home found thousands of documents that the former president had kept there, including a hundred papers marked classified with varying degrees of confidentiality. The former president had failed to hand them over, as required by law, which justified the search.
In recent weeks, other information about the investigation has emerged. The Washington Post revealed that two Trump employees moved boxes of documents out of a storage room in Mar-a-Lago just a day before the Justice Department visited the former president’s residence with a request to collect the classified papers, which — in addition to the other evidence the special prosecutor has gathered — could support the charge of obstruction of justice.
Federal prosecutors also obtained a recording of a meeting in the summer of 2021, in which Trump acknowledges that he kept a classified Pentagon document about a possible attack on Iran, according to a CNN report. The recording is incriminating evidence against Trump, who has sometimes claimed that he declassified all the documents that the FBI found during the search of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
One of Trump’s common tactics is to try to delay and hamper an investigation with continued judicial appeals. Thanks to one of these appeals, a federal judge from Florida, Aileen M. Cannon — appointed by Trump himself shortly before leaving office — ordered the Department of Justice and the FBI to suspend the investigation into the papers found at Mar-a-Lago, until a “special master” could be appointed to oversee the review.
This call was made on the grounds that some documents could compromise Trump’s right to attorney-client privilege, or could be subject to executive privilege — a legal doctrine that shields some White House communications, even though Trump no longer holds public office.
A court, however, overturned the judge’s decision. Last September, a U.S. federal appeals court provisionally lifted the suspension of the investigation. Then, the three-judge panel halted the suspension entirely. “The law is clear,” the appeals court wrote in a verdict that reflected badly on Judge Cannon. “We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so.”
What’s more, the court pointed out that Judge Cannon did not have the jurisdiction to rule in the case. She had justified the move on the basis that an FBI search on the house of a former president was extraordinary. “It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation,” they countered. “To create a special exception here would defy our Nation’s foundational principle that our law applies “to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank.”
While the probe into Trump continued, the Justice Department shelved the investigation into classified documents discovered at the home of former vice president Mike Pence after he left office. In a letter dated June 1, the Justice Department informed Pence that no criminal charges would be sought.
At the end of January, it emerged that the assistants of Trump’s former vice president discovered a dozen documents marked as classified in his Indiana home. Pence thus joined Trump and President Biden on the list of officials who improperly took confidential documents to their private homes. In Biden’s case, as in Trump’s, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to take over the investigation.
In Pence’s case, it involved a “small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former Vice President at the end of the last administration,” Pence’s attorney wrote in a dated letter sent to the National Archives, the institution that must guard the documents and records when presidents and vice presidents leave office.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is investigating whether Trump illegally interfered in Georgia’s 2020 election, has said she plans to announce in the coming months whether she will press charges. Willis has hinted that any possible indictments will be made in August. In a recent letter to county Superior Court Chief Judge Ural Glanville, Willis suggested that he plan for staff to work remotely during the first three weeks of August, and asked that judges not schedule trials and in-person hearings during that time period for safety reasons.
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