Former President Donald Trump Charged in Classified Documents Probe

Former President Donald J. Trump has been indicted in the district court in Miami on federal counts stemming from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s months-long investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents.

The indictment represents the first time in U.S. history a former president will face criminal charges. Trump announced the indictment Thursday night on Truth Social. “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,” Trump said in a post at 7:21 p.m. eastern time.

He will surrender to authorities in Miami on Tuesday.

Exact charges are unclear; the New York Times reports that the former president faces seven counts. Those charges potentially include obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and unlawful retention of classified material. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland, appointed by Joe Biden in January 2021, named Smith special counsel last year to take over Garland’s existing investigations into both the classified documents matter and Trump’s alleged role in the events of January 6. “Such an appointment underscores the Department’s commitment to both independence and accountability,” Garland said in a November 2022 announcement.

After months of accusations by the National Archives and Records Administration that Trump-era government documents were missing in violation of the Presidential Records Act, the agency retrieved 15 boxes of records from Trump’s primary residence in Palm Beach, Florida in January 2022. The following month, NARAs inspector general sent a letter to the Justice Department seeking a criminal investigation into Trump, claiming the boxes contained “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, miscellaneous print-outs, notes, presidential correspondence, personal and post-presidential records, and a lot of classified records.”

News reports confirmed Garland’s Justice Department opened an investigation in April 2022; NARA, over the objection of Trump’s legal team amid claims of executive privilege, then gave the FBI access to the files.

Despite Team Trump’s cooperation with investigators, which included meeting with investigators and counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt at his home resulting in the production of additional documents in response to a subpoena, Garland’s Justice Department sought and received an overly broad search warrant to conduct a raid of Mar-a-Lago.

In another unprecedented move by the Justice Department, armed FBI agents descended on the former president’s home and office in August 2022, a raid Garland later said he approved. 

Prosecutors admitted in court filings that agents absconded with roughly 13,000 items including apparel, books, and the president’s passports—but only found “one hundred unique documents with classification markings.”

Trump filed a lawsuit demanding a third party handle the alleged classified records; Florida District Court Judge Aileen Cannon ordered the appointment of a special master in September 2022 amid concerns investigators had already bungled the probe and the Justice Department’s history of damaging leaks; Cannon’s appointment of federal judge Raymond J. Dearie as special master was overturned on appeal in December. (Cannon is a judge on the same court that will oversee the historic case.)

Smith’s inquiry quickly morphed into an obstruction investigation. The Washington Post reported in October 2022 that Smith’s office was looking into how files were handled after the initial inquiry began. “Investigators now suspect, based on witness statements, security camera footage, and other documentary evidence, that boxes including classified material were moved from a Mar-a-Lago storage area after the subpoena was served and that Trump personally examined at least some of those boxes,” Post reporters Devlin Barrett and Josh Dawsey wrote.

Smith’s prosecutors subpoenaed nearly every employee of Mar-a-Lago including maids, servers, and one of Trump’s personal valets in an effort to build an obstruction case. At least 20 members of Trump’s Secret Service detail also were subpoenaed by Smith.

Favorable court rulings enabled the special counsel’s free-for-all pursuit to question anyone in Trump’s orbit about both the documents and January 6 matters. Trump lost every legal challenge seeking executive privilege protections; Beryl Howell, the Obama-appointed D.C. District Court judge who handled all behind-the-scenes legal maneuvers by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the dual criminal investigations into Trump by Biden’s Justice Department, in March took the highly unusual step of piercing attorney-client privilege between Trump and his lawyer, Evan Corcoran. Howell claimed Smith’s team had presented “sufficient” evidence to activate the “crime fraud” exception to compel Corcoran’s grand jury testimony and production of his records pertaining to Trump.

It appears Smith empaneled a grand jury recently in southern Florida amid venue concerns although most of the investigative work was conducted in the hyper-partisan courthouse in Washington, D.C.. According to the Times, “prosecutors would simply have to read the early grand jury transcripts to the new grand jurors or have federal agents offer them a summary of the most important points” to obtain the indictment in the Florida jurisdiction.

Garland also appointed former U.S. Attorney Robert Hur as special counsel in January to investigate Joe Biden’s handling and storage of classified documents. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is planning to challenge Trump in the 2024 presidential primary, recently was cleared of any wrongdoing related to his possession of classified materials.

Smith’s ongoing investigation into January 6, however, poses far greater legal jeopardy for Trump. Potential charges include obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to obstruct, and witness tampering. Smith could pursue a seditious conspiracy count against Trump; six members of the Oath Keepers and four members of the Proud Boys, so-called “militia” groups involved in January 6 and tangentially tied to Trump, have been convicted by Washington juries of the rare, Civil War-era charge. Convictions have resulted in sentences as long as 18 years in prison. Smith could file January 6 related charges within the next several weeks.

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