Trump indictment unsealed in documents case
President Donald Trump has been indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate. The indictment marks the first time in US history that a former president faces criminal charges by the federal government he once oversaw. Trump faces the possibility of prison if convicted.
The Justice Department special counsel who filed charges against Trump says in his first public statement that the country has “one set of laws and they apply to everyone” while he outlined the charges against the former president.
Jack Smith spoke to reporters briefly in Washington on Friday, but did not take questions.
“Adherence to the rule of law is a bedrock principle of the Department of Justice and our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world,” Smith said.
Smith added that prosecutors would seek a speedy trial and “very much look forward” to presenting their case.
Trump is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday in south Florida.
TRUMP KEPT CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS
The indictment alleges Trump kept classified documents in the bathroom and shower at his Florida estate, as well as various other locations that included a ballroom, storeroom, office and bedroom.
Prosecutors noted that “tens of thousands of members and guests” visited the “active social club” of Mar-a-Lago between the end of Trump’s presidency in January 2021 through the August 2022 search. They argued that “nonetheless” Trump stored documents “in a ballroom, a bathroom and shower, and office space, his bedroom, and a storage room”.
The indictment claims that, for a two-month period, some of Trump’s boxes were stored in one of Mar-a-Lago’s gilded ballroom. A picture included in the indictment shows boxes stacked in rows on the ballroom’s stage.
The indictment also shows photographs of boxes that spilled over in the storage room, including a document marked SECRET/REL TO USA, FVEY” which means information releasable only to members of the intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. In the photo the classified document is redacted.
The indictment unsealed Friday also says that, unaware of any records being moved, Trump’s attorney on June 2, 2022, identified 38 documents with “classified” markings and placed them in a folder, which he sealed with clear duct tape handed to him by Trump valet Walt Nauta. The valet then took the attorney to see the former president.
“Did you find anything? Is it bad? ... Is it good?” the lawyer said Trump asked.
The attorney told federal authorities that he discussed the folder of classified material with Trump and how the material should be handled. The attorney told authorities that as they discussed the attorney taking the materials with him, Trump gestured in a way that suggested he wanted the attorney to identify “anything really bad” and “you know, pluck it out.” The lawyer clarified that Trump did not articulate such instructions beyond making that “plucking motion”.
The attorney told authorities that he did not take anything out of the folder and that he instead immediately contacted the FBI and another Trump attorney. On June 3, according to the indictment, the second Trump attorney acted as the official custodian of records on Trump’s behalf and turned the material to the FBI.
The indictment alleges that Nauta acted “at Trump’s direction” to move “approximately 64 boxes” of documents from the Mar-a-Lago storage room to the former president’s residence. Nauta’s actions occurred between May 23, 2022, and June 2, 2022, according to the indictment.
That total includes “approximately 30 boxes” Nauta allegedly moved on June 2, the same day Trump’s legal team was expected to examine the cache. Nauta’s actions that day came hours after he talked briefly via phone with Trump, prosecutors allege. Neither Trump nor Nauta, according to the indictment, disclosed to the former president’s attorneys that Nauta had moved any of the storage room contents.
According to prosecutors’ timeline, Trump met later that day with one of his attorneys and Nauta escorted the attorney to the storage room for his review of the documents.
TRUMP SHOWED DOCUMENTS TO OTHERS
The indictment unsealed Friday outlined two circumstances in which Trump allegedly showed the documents to others.
One occurred in a meeting with a writer at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he described federal officials’ “plan of attack” against him and purportedly acknowledging that he knew the information “is still a secret”.
In a later meeting with a representative from his political action committee, Trump displayed “a classified map related to a military operation”, acknowledging he “should not be showing it to the representative and that the representative should not get too close,” prosecutors said.
In the next paragraph, prosecutors note how Trump, at a press conference while president in 2017, addressed media leaks and said that leaking classified information is “an illegal process” and that people involved “should be ashamed of themselves”.
Trump is facing 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents.
An indictment unsealed Friday also alleges that he described a Pentagon “plan of attack” and shared a classified map related to a military operation.
The document marks the Justice Department’s first official confirmation of a criminal case against Trump arising from the retention of hundreds of documents at his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago.
Charged alongside with Trump was Walt Nauta, a Trump aide who was seen on surveillance camera removing boxes at Mar-a-Lago.
The indictment accuses Trump of having improperly removed scores of boxes from the White House to take them to Mar-a-Lago, many of them containing classified information.
BIDEN STAYS MUM
President Joe Biden is steadfastly refusing to comment on Trump’s indictment and said he has not spoken to Attorney General Merrick Garland about it, as the White House continues to shy away from the political implications of the case.
Travelling in North Carolina on Friday, Biden said of Garland shortly after the indictment against Trump was unsealed and released to the public, “I have not spoken to him at all. I’m not gonna speak to him.”
The president added, “I have no comment on what happened” and repeated similar replies when pressed.
Trump is the early front-runner in the Republican presidential primary for the right to challenge Biden, who is seeking re-election. At least one of Trump’s rivals, meanwhile, doesn’t think the case should prompt the former president to bow out of the primary race.
Mike Pence, who was Trump’s vice president, was asked by a reporter while campaigning at a diner in Derry, New Hampshire, if Trump should suspend his campaign and replied, “No.”
“I think any consideration of that is premature,” Pence said, “Everyone is innocent until proven guilty in America. I think the former president has a right to make his defence.”