Donald Trump charged in Florida over secret documents case
(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump has been indicted over his refusal to return classified documents found at his Florida home, according to three people familiar with the matter.
The indictment in a Miami federal court is extraordinary, since a former president has never been charged with committing federal crimes.
It will almost certainly upend the race to be the Republican nominee for president in the 2024 election and means that Trump could be facing prison time or disqualification from holding public office depending on the charges if he is convicted.
The indictment was filed under seal and contains seven charges, including wilful retention of national defence information, corruptly concealing documents, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements, according to a person familiar with the case who asked for anonymity to discuss confidential information. The document could be made public on Friday.
A conviction for wilfully concealing or destroying government records carries a penalty of disqualification from office, but legal experts are in disagreement about whether that applies to the presidency.
Trump risks losing support from moderate Republicans, independents and suburban voters.
Violating the Espionage Act by retaining national defence information can carry up to 10 years in prison, and obstructing justice can carry up to 20 years, although Trump would be unlikely to face maximum penalties.
Trump maintained his innocence in a Thursday-night post on his Truth Social platform and said that he’s been summoned to appear at the federal courthouse in Miami on Tuesday.
“I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States,” he wrote.
The Trump campaign called the indictment an “act of open legal ‘warfare’”.
The White House declined to comment, as did the Justice Department.
Trump’s indictment piles on legal and political pressure as he also has been charged in an unrelated New York case. It also comes during a week when three other potential rivals – his own former vice-president Mike Pence, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and North Dakota governor Doug Burgum – have announced they are running against him for the GOP nomination in 2024.
Trump appears to be the front-runner for the nomination with a base of support that’s been unwavering through his indictment by New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg related to hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, as well as a civil ruling in New York that held him liable for sexual battery against author E. Jean Carroll.
But with candidates like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott offering alternative platforms in an increasingly crowded field, Trump risks losing support from moderate Republicans, independents and suburban voters.
Trump also faces a civil lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James over his company’s asset valuations and ongoing probes by the Justice Department and the Atlanta-area district attorney over his efforts to overturn his 2020 electoral loss to President Joe Biden.
Trump has claimed that all the cases against him are political witch hunts designed to keep him from getting re-elected to a second White House term.
The Justice Department’s classified documents probe centred on a lengthy effort to get Trump to return government records taken from the White House when he left office in 2021 and stored at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Last August, the FBI obtained a warrant and conducted the unprecedented search of an ex-president’s home amid concerns Trump failed to return all top-secret materials to the National Archives, where they belong, even after receiving a federal subpoena requiring him to do so.
Prosecutors also subpoenaed an array of people who worked at Trump’s Florida residence to testify and provide evidence to grand juries in Washington and Florida as part of the investigation.
The National Archives, which holds presidential and other records of the US government, also found that Pence and Biden took documents when they left office but both men invited authorities into their homes and offices to retrieve them. Pence’s legal case over the documents was closed without charges; Biden’s, which is being led by another special counsel, is still pending.
Read more in Daily Maverick:
Trump said he had issued a “standing order” to declassify all the documents, and at one point claimed he could declassify records simply by thinking about it. However, there is no known documentation to back up his declassification claim.
Smith was appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in November to lead the classified documents probe and a separate, ongoing investigation into efforts by Trump and others to overturn Biden’s 2020 wins in battleground states.
Trump is facing serious crimes that carry significant prison time, according to former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade.
“Trump is presumed innocent, like all defendants, but these are significant charges because they put the nation’s security at risk,” she said. Bloomberg/DM