Details of the Justice Department’s months-long investigation into former President Trump’s handling of classified documents went public on Friday after prosecutors successfully sought an indictment.
Trump is set to make his first court appearance on Tuesday afternoon in Miami to face 37 federal criminal charges.
Here are five takeaways from the federal indictment.
DOJ lays bare ‘the scope and the gravity’ of Trump charges
Former President Donald Trump speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
The indictment covers 37 different counts against Trump, the majority of which are for violations of the Espionage Act.
A breakdown of the documents shows that most of them dealt with intelligence collected on foreign countries or American military capabilities, while the indictment itself warns their release risks “the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military, and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.”
The sheer total number of counts makes clear the Justice Department isn’t shying away from a complex prosecution that includes highly sensitive information, even if the only a a small portion of the 300 classified records Trump had in his possession are covered by the indictment.
“What stands out to me is the number of Espionage Act charges: 31! I was expecting 10-15 or so, but 31 shows that DOJ will be pursuing a VERY aggressive strategy in this case,” Brian Greer, a former CIA attorney, wrote on Twitter.
“These docs are EXTREMELY sensitive. 21 of the 31 are classified as Top Secret. DOJ is not messing around by just cherrypicking some less sensitive Secret documents.”
Espionage Act violations carry up to 10 years in prison while others included in the indictment carry 20 years, surpassing the risk of jail time for the first case Trump was indicted on this year in the New York based hush money probe.
Trump charged with direct involvement in withholding records
Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters Friday, June 9, 2023, in Washington. Former President Donald Trump is facing 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents according to an indictment unsealed on Friday. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Several of the charges that Trump is facing are related to efforts to hide his possession of the documents and keep them away from federal investigators, including charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, a scheme to conceal and making false statements and representations.
The indictment includes multiple instances where Trump allegedly directed his staff members to move and hide the documents from investigators and on one occasion his own attorney.
After a grand jury issued a subpoena in May 2022 for him to provide any classified information in his possession, the former president raised questions with his attorneys about what would happen if they ignored the subpoena or “don’t play ball.”
“Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” Trump asked.
One of Trump’s attorneys had planned to visit Mar-a-Lago in June to review what boxes had been sent to the National Archives so someone could certify that Trump’s team had fully complied with the subpoena.
More Trump indictment coverage from The Hill
- What happens next with case, campaign plans
- Democratic lawmakers claim indictment news shows Trump ‘not above the law’
- GOP sees unequal treatment, conflict of interest in Trump indictment
- Trump shakes up legal team after indictment
But Trump directed another aide, Walt Nauta, who has also been charged, to move about 64 boxes from the storage room where the attorney planned to look to Trump’s residence, according to the indictment.
After the Trump attorney taped up boxes containing classified documents found in the storage room, Trump allegedly motioned, but did not directly say, that the attorney should take the boxes with him to his hotel room and “pluck” out any documents that are “really bad.”
The relocation of the boxes from the storage room caused another attorney to wrongly conclude that all documents had been provided and certify to investigators that the subpoena’s requirements had been fully met.
At a meeting where the false certification was provided to Justice Department and FBI personnel, Trump claimed he was an “open book.”
More legal baggage for Trump’s campaign
President Donald Trump is joined on stage with Turning Point USA Founder Charlie Kirk as he finishes speaking at Turning Point USA Teen Student Action Summit at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
The indictment adds to the cloud hanging over Trump as he campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, but it’s unclear whether the allegations will be enough to significantly alter his support with GOP primary voters.
Trump managed to maintain his lead in the polls after the Manhattan district attorney brought charges in April over an alleged hush money scheme, and Trump aides believe Friday’s federal indictment will only further cement the support of his base, which is already inclined to believe Trump is being unfairly targeted.
Hard-core Trump supporters, like Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, called on other candidates to suspend their campaigns in a show of support for Trump.
While the charges led to many of Trump’s would-be rivals to attack the Justice Department, some seemed unwilling to absolve Trump of wrongdoing entirely.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Trump’s top challenger in polls, derided the “weaponization of federal law enforcement” and vowed to hold the Justice Department accountable if elected, but otherwise did not specifically defend Trump.
Former Vice President Mike Pence said he was “deeply troubled” by the indictment but added that “no one is above the law.”
Trump remains under investigation at the federal level for his attempts to stay in power after the 2020 election, and at the state level in Georgia for attempts to overturn the 2020 election results there.
Smith addresses longstanding GOP criticism
Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters Friday, June 9, 2023, in Washington. Former President Donald Trump is facing 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents according to an indictment unsealed on Friday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Smith offered his first public remarks on the case since taking helm of the investigation in November, and took the opportunity to address criticism of the case.
White Trump and others in the GOP have cast the investigation as a witch hunt, Smith said prosecutors were motivated to bring charges only because of the facts of the case and the law.
“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. We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone,” Smith said.
“Applying those laws, collecting facts — that’s what determines the outcome of an investigation. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was a rare GOP voice suggesting the charges are merited.
“Mr. Trump brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents, but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so,” Romney said in a statement.
Legal team shakeups
Former President Donald Trump speaks at an event in Grimes, Iowa, on June 1, 2023. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Trump’s defense team has been shaken up multiple times as the case has intensified.
Hours after being indicted, Trump announced attorneys Jim Trusty and John Rowley would no longer represent him in the case.
The move was a sudden twist, as Trusty had been on the airwaves as recently as Friday morning to defend the former president.
Attorney Todd Blanche, who left his role as a partner at a major law firm in April to represent Trump in his Manhattan hush money criminal case, will now also play a role in the classified documents defense.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that the Trump team has further been seeking criminal defense attorneys in South Florida, where the charges were brought, for the past couple of weeks.
“I want to thank Jim Trusty and John Rowley for their work, but they were up against a very dishonest, corrupt, evil, and ‘sick’ group of people, the likes of which has not been seen before. We will be announcing additional lawyers in the coming days,” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Friday.
In a joint statement labeled “OUR DECISION” shortly after Trump’s announcement, the two attorneys said they would step away from representing the former president in either line of inquiry pursued by the special counsel.
Attorney Tim Parlatore also departed Trump’s legal team in the weeks leading up to the indictment over differences with Trump counsel Boris Epshteyn.