Charged over classified documents in first federal indictment of an ex-president
DONALD TRUMP said yesterday that he has been indicted on charges of mishandling classified documents at his Florida estate, igniting a federal prosecution that is arguably the most perilous of multiple legal threats against the former president as he seeks to reclaim the White House.
The Justice Department did not immediately publicly confirm the indictment. But two people familiar with the situation who were not authorised to discuss it publicly said that the indictment included seven criminal counts. One of those people said Trump’s lawyers were contacted by prosecutors shortly before he announced on his Truth Social platform that he had been indicted.
The indictment enmeshes the Justice Department in the most politically explosive prosecution in its long history. Its first case against a former president upends a Republican presidential primary that Trump is currently dominating, and any felony charges would raise the prospect of a yearslong prison sentence.
Within 20 minutes of his announcement, Trump, who said he was due in court on Tuesday afternoon, had begun fundraising off it for his 2024 presidential campaign. He declared in a video, “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” and repeated his familiar refrain that the investigation is a “witch hunt”.
The case adds to deepening legal jeopardy for Trump, who has already been indicted in New York and faces additional investigations in Washington and Atlanta that also could lead to criminal charges. As the prosecution moves forward, it will pit Trump’s claims of sweeping executive power against Attorney General Merrick Garland’s oft-stated mantra that no person, including a former commander in chief, should be regarded as above the law.
The indictment arises from a monthslong investigation by special counsel Jack Smith into whether Trump broke the law by holding on to hundreds of documents marked classified at his Palm Beach property, Mar-a-Lago, and whether Trump took steps to obstruct the government’s efforts to recover the records.
Prosecutors have said that Trump took roughly 300 classified documents to Mar-a-Lago after leaving the White House, including some 100 that were seized by the FBI last August in a search of the home that underscored the gravity of the Justice Department’s investigation.
Trump and his team have long seen the special counsel investigation as far more perilous than the New York matter — both politically and legally. Campaign aides had been bracing for the fallout since Trump’s attorneys were notified that he was the target of the investigation, assuming it was not a matter of if charges would be brought, but when.
But it remains unclear what the immediate and long-term political consequences will be for Trump.
Trump has insisted that he was entitled to keep the classified documents when he left the White House and has also claimed without evidence that he had declassified them.
The case is a milestone for a Justice Department that had investigated Trump for years — as president and private citizen — but had never before charged him with a crime.