Donald Trump has been accused of 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 against the federal government he once oversaw.
The Justice Department is expected to unseal a seven-count indictment ahead of next week’s historic court appearance, which comes amid sporadic criminal prosecutions in several states during the 2024 presidential campaign.
The indictment would undoubtedly carry serious legal ramifications, including possible prison time for Trump if convicted.
But it also has huge political implications, potentially upending the Republican presidential primary that Trump has dominated and retesting the willingness of Republican voters and party leaders to support the twice-indicted Trump, who now faces more charges. candidates. It laid the groundwork for a sensational trial focused on the willful and illegal hoarding of sensitive national security information by a man once entrusted with protecting the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.
The Justice Department did not immediately publicly confirm the indictment. But the indictment includes seven criminal counts, said two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Prosecutors contacted Trump’s attorney shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform Thursday that he had been indicted, one of the people said.
Within minutes of his announcement, Trump said he would appear in court in Miami on Tuesday afternoon as he began fundraising for his presidential campaign. He declared his innocence in a video, repeating his familiar narrative that the investigation was a “witch hunt.”
The case raises legal risks for Trump, who has already been indicted in New York and faces further investigations in Washington and Atlanta that could also lead to criminal charges. But of the various investigations he faces, legal experts — and Trump’s own aides — have long viewed the Mar-a-Lago investigation as the most dangerous threat, and the one ripe for prosecution. Ever since Trump’s lawyers were told he was the target of the investigation, campaign aides have been bracing for the fallout, assuming it wasn’t a question of if charges would be brought, but when.
Appearing on CNN on Thursday night, Trump’s attorney, James Trusty, said the indictment included charges of knowingly withholding national defense information — a measure that is under the Espionage Act. , which provides for the handling of government secrets – obstruction, misrepresentation and conspiracy.
In November, 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 ) as the war crimes prosecutor, who has a strong reputation for being aggressive, leading document investigations and conducting a separate investigation into efforts to subvert the 2020 election.
The case is a milestone for the Justice Department, which has investigated Trump for years as a president and as a private citizen but has never previously charged him with a crime. The most prominent probe was an earlier special counsel probe into ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia, but prosecutors in that probe cited the Justice Department’s policy against prosecuting a sitting president. Once he leaves office, however, he loses that protection.
The indictment stems from a months-long investigation into whether Trump broke the law by holding hundreds of documents marked classified at his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate, and whether Trump Whether to take steps to thwart government efforts to restore those records.
Prosecutors said Trump brought about 300 classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House, including about 100 seized by the FBI during a house raid last August, underscoring the gravity of the Justice Department investigation . Trump has repeatedly insisted that he has the right to keep the classified documents when he leaves the White House, and has claimed without evidence that he has declassified them.
Court records unsealed last year showed federal investigators believed they likely committed multiple crimes, including withholding national defense information, destroying government records and obstruction.
Since then, the Justice Department has gathered more evidence and obtained grand jury testimony from people close to Trump, including his own attorneys. Regulations governing the handling of classified records and obstruction are felonies that, if convicted, could carry years in prison.
Even so, it’s unclear how much damage it will do to Trump’s popularity, given that his first indictment has cost millions of dollars from angry supporters and hasn’t dented his standing 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 Democratic prosecutors are driving the cases to harm his 2024 campaign. He will likely rely on that playbook again, reviving his long-held claim that the Justice Department — which investigated whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia during his presidency — was somehow used 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. The district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, is investigating Trump’s alleged efforts to undermine the state’s 2020 election.
Signs of the imminent indictment have emerged for weeks, including Monday’s meeting between Trump’s lawyers and Justice Department officials. His lawyers were also recently told that he was the target of the investigation, the clearest sign yet that prosecutions are on the horizon.
While much of the investigation was being handled in Washington, where the grand jury met for months, it recently emerged that prosecutors were giving evidence before a separate panel in Florida, where many of the alleged obstructions prosecutors reviewed took place state.
The Justice Department said Trump had repeatedly rejected the National Archives and Records Administration’s efforts to retrieve the documents. After months of back and forth, Trump representatives returned 15 boxes of records in January 2022, including about 184 documents that officials said had classified marks on them.
FBI and Justice Department investigators issued subpoenas in May 2022 targeting classified documents still held by Trump. But after a lawyer for Trump provided three dozen records and claimed to have conducted a serious search of the property, officials began to suspect that more documents were left.
The investigation had been brewing for months before it hit the front pages in spectacular fashion last August. That’s when FBI agents issued a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago and took away 33 boxes of classified records, including top-secret documents stashed in storage and desk drawers mixed with personal belongings. document. Some of the records were so sensitive that investigators needed an upgraded security clearance to review them, the Justice Department said.
The investigation into Trump is politically fraught with the discovery of classified documents at his Delaware residence and President Joe Biden’s former Washington office, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence’s home in Indiana. , even legally complex. The Justice Department recently notified Pence that he would not face charges, while a second special counsel continued to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents.
But there are key differences in the factual and legal issues surrounding Biden and Pence’s handling of documents compared with Trump’s, including representatives for both saying they voluntarily turned over to investigators when they were discovered. By contrast, investigators were quick to focus on whether Trump, who has been president for four years and has shown contempt for the FBI and Justice Department, tried to obstruct the investigation by refusing to turn over all requested documents.
Tucker reported from Washington. Colvin reported from Des Moines, Iowa.