Trump indicted in Mar-a-Lago records case
- The Department of Justice indicted former President Donald Trump in the Mar-a-Lago records case.
- It's the first time a former president has been charged with a federal crime.
The Justice Department brought an indictment against Donald Trump on Thursday over the former president's hoarding of government records, according to the New York Times, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.
The precise charges weren't immediately known, but multiple outlets have reported there are seven of them.
Trump's lawyer Jim Trusty told CNN Thursday night that he hasn't seen the indictment yet, but a summons he received from the DOJ via email referred to an Espionage Act charge, several obstruction charges, false statements charges, and a conspiracy charge. But in an interview with the New York Times in which he spoke of the same charges, he noted he wasn't exactly certain which charges his client faced.
"This is not biblically accurate, because I'm not looking at a charging document. I'm looking at a summary sheet. There's language in there that might actually be reflecting a single count instead of two, but I think there was a conspiracy count as well," he told the Times.
With the indictment, Trump became the first current or former president in American history to face federal criminal charges. The indictment sets the stage for an extraordinary prosecution pitting the Justice Department against a former president who is campaigning to return to the White House.
The indictment may also further radicalize Trump's MAGA base of supporters. Trump has alluded to the possibility of violence if he is arrested, as he did in the run-up to his indictment by a New York grand jury.
Trump said in a Truth Social post that he would appear in federal court in Miami on Tuesday afternoon.
"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," he said on Truth Social, before falsely claiming he won the 2020 election.
Prior to Trump's indictment, federal prosecutors told his attorneys in early June that he was a target of the investigation. Some of Trump's close aides and allies, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and ex-spokesperson Taylor Budowich, testified before grand jurors who brought the indictment.
Smith's indictment is the second pending criminal case against Trump. In April, the Manhattan District Attorney's office brought a 34-count indictment against the former president, alleging he falsified business records in connection with payments to Stormy Daniels designed to keep her silent ahead of the 2016 election about an alleged affair she says she had with him.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in the Manhattan case, which is scheduled to go to trial in March of 2024.
The existence of the federal criminal investigation became public when the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in early August 2022, seizing boxes of documents Trump took from the White House when he left office. According to the unsealed warrant, the feds were investigating whether Trump broke three laws, including the Espionage Act, and whether he obstructed justice.
Earlier in 2022, Trump turned over 15 boxes of documents — including some marked as classified and "top secret" — at the request of the National Archives. But National Archives officials and federal investigators believed he held on to more — despite his attorneys promising otherwise — leading to the search on his Florida estate. Trump had reportedly held on to some classified documents with explosive national security ramifications, including one about a potential military attack on Iran.
Trump's lawyers have argued that the White House process for handling classified information differs from other parts of the government and that any case should be handled as a civil matter rather than a criminal one. Trump has claimed that as president, he had the power to declassify documents simply "by thinking about it."
The indictment is now a stress test on the Justice Department
For the Justice Department, Trump's November campaign announcement only intensified what was already a politically charged inquiry into the former president's retention of classified documents and other sensitive materials following his departure from the White House. Within days of the announcement, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the investigation, along with a separate inquiry related to efforts by Trump and his political allies to overturn the 2020 election.
Those dual investigations into the former president have tested Garland as he's striven to restore the Justice Department's independence on the heels of the politicization of the Trump era. In announcing his selection of Smith, Garland said the appointment underscored the Justice Department's "commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters."
That messaging did little to quell claims by Trump and his Republican allies that the Biden administration was waging a politically motivated investigation into a top contender for the GOP nomination. Trump quickly criticized the special counsel's appointment as "disgraceful."
President Joe Biden also faces a probe over classified records. After disclosures that classified records were found in spaces associated with Biden prior to his presidency, documents that were returned to the government, Garland named a separate special counsel in a move that blindsided the White House.
With Trump's indictment, the Justice Department and the judge overseeing the case must now navigate months of court proceedings related to the prosecution as the former president campaigns for a return to public office.
Trump has warned of a violent response to any indictment on criminal charges. In September, he said there would be "problems" like "we've never seen" before in the event of his criminal indictment.
Grand juries in Washington, DC and Miami have been hearing evidence in the government records case, with Smith reportedly preferring to bring charges in Florida if that is where the bulk of the alleged crimes were committed. According to the Washington Post, prosecutors have taken interest in a statement Trump drafted in 2022 claiming he'd given "everything" back to the government.
Aside from the case over government records, Smith is overseeing a separate grand jury investigation into Trump's role in trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power between himself and Biden.
Trump has maintained the falsehood that he was the true victor of the 2020 presidential election. In the months following his loss tried to overturn Biden's victory in court, pressured state officials falsely declare him the winner in states where voters chose Biden, and hosted a rally in Washington, DC, shortly before his supporters stormed the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.
In Atlanta, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is also overseeing a criminal investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn election results. Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes" needed to snatch the state's vote total away from Biden's victory. His allies in the state's Republican party, also under investigation, plotted to send fake electors to Congress to vote for Trump even though he lost the state.
Willis convened a special grand jury panel to investigate Trump and the fake electors, and is currently weighing whether to recommend indictments to an ordinary grand jury.
On the civil litigation front, Trump faces numerous other challenges between now and election day.
A sprawling fraud case against him and the Trump Organization from the New York Attorney General's office is set to go to trial in October. Several live legal claims from E. Jean Carroll, Michael Cohen, a group of plaintiffs who alleged he scammed them with a multi-level marketing scheme back in his days on "The Apprentice" are all making their way through the courts.
Editor's note: Portions of this article were prepared in the weeks preceding Trump's indictment.
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