Trump Indicted on 37 Counts, Accused of Mishandling Classified Documents

  • VOA News

    June 10, 2023 08:07

    Former U.S. President Donald Trump faces 37 felony charges related to the alleged mishandling of classified documents after he left the White House, including top secret files on U.S. nuclear and defense programs, according to an indictment made public Friday.
    The 49-page charging document said that on at least two occasions Trump showed classified documents about U.S. military operations to people who did not possess a security clearance. 
    The U.S. Justice Department accused Trump of ignoring demands to return documents he had taken from the White House to his home in the southern U.S. state of Florida and of asking aides to help him hide the documents. A Trump aide, Walt Nauta, is also facing charges in the case; he was indicted on six counts for allegedly helping Trump to hide the documents.
    A federal grand jury in Florida indicted Trump on Thursday, making him the first former American president in history to face a federal indictment.
    ◆ 'Boxes Hoax'
    Trump confirmed his indictment on his social media platform, Truth Social, saying he had been summoned to appear in court in Miami on Tuesday. "The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax," Trump wrote, apparently alluding to boxes of classified government documents seized by the FBI from his Florida estate last August.
    In a video statement, Trump defiantly asserted that President Joe Biden's administration has "weaponized" the Justice Department and the FBI to target him. "I'm an innocent man, I'm an innocent person," Trump said. "We can't let this continue to go on because it's ripping our country to shreds." 
    Biden declined Friday to comment on the indictment. When asked by reporters in North Carolina if he had spoken to Attorney General Merrick Garland, he replied, "I have not spoken to him at all and I'm not going to speak with him." The White House said Biden had no advance knowledge of the indictment and he found out at the same time as everyone else.
    Trump's staunch supporters rallied behind the former president. In a brief statement, Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote, "It's a sad day for America. God bless President Trump." 
    Two of Trump's opponents for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, decried what they called the "weaponization" of the Justice Department against the former president.
    Another Republican presidential hopeful, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, withheld judgment on the indictment, saying he'd have "more to say when the facts are revealed." 
    Democrats voiced support for the indictment. Representative Adam Schiff of California, who served as the manager in Trump's first impeachment, wrote: "For four years, he acted like he was above the law. But he should be treated like any other lawbreaker. And today, he has been."  
    Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport in Waco, Texas on March 25, 2023. /AP
    ◆ Change in Legal Team
    The indictment was revealed on the same day that Trump announced a change in his legal team. Trump posted Friday on Truth Social that he would be represented by attorney Todd Blanche and "a firm to be named later." 
    Two of Trump's lawyers, John Rowley and Jim Trusty, were removed from the case. "This morning we tendered our resignations as counsel to President Trump," the two lawyers said in a statement. "It has been an honor to have spent the last year defending him, and we know he will be vindicated." 
    The indictment is the latest legal trouble for Trump as he hopes to return to office after losing a reelection bid to Biden in 2020. In April, a Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump on state charges of falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment to an adult film star during his 2016 run for president. He has pleaded not guilty in that case.
    The indictment, while a major blow to Trump's political ambitions, does not bar him from seeking a second term in the White House. In fact, former federal prosecutor John Malcolm noted, there are no laws that would stop him from running, even if he is convicted. "There have been people who have run for office from prison cells," Malcolm said.
    In 2002, former Representative Jim Traficant ran for his old congressional seat while serving a prison sentence for corruption. The charges against Trump include willful retention of national defense information, obstruction of justice, false statements and conspiracy. The charge of gathering, transmitting or losing national defense information without being authorized carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison.
    In 2019, Harold Martin III, a former National Security Agency contractor, was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of willful retention of national defense information. Obstruction of a federal investigation by destroying, altering or falsifying records is punishable by up to 20 years.
    Evan Corcoran, an attorney for Trump, did not immediately respond to a VOA request for comment.
    ◆ Probe's Beginning
    The Justice Department had been investigating Trump since early last year after the National Archives notified the law enforcement agency that the former president had stashed hundreds of sensitive government documents at his Florida resort and had thwarted government efforts to retrieve them.
    Trump later turned over several dozen documents but was suspected of holding on to more. Then the FBI executed a search of Mar-a-Lago in August 2022, recovering more than 100 classified documents. The highly publicized search set off Republican denunciations of the Justice Department.
    In all, prosecutors have retrieved more than 300 classified government documents from Trump, including documents marked "top secret/sensitive compartmented information," the highest level of classification.
    The government has kept the content of the documents under wraps, but in court documents prosecutors have written their mishandling could endanger U.S. national security. The documents originated with different agencies, including the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency, and cover a broad spectrum of national security topics, such as China and Iran's missile program.
    ◆ 'Remarkable Moment'
    Jordan Strauss, a former Justice Department official who is a managing director at Kroll, a risk consulting firm, called Trump's indictment "a remarkable moment in history and the most significant case the DOJ has ever brought." 
    Trump's indictment comes as another special counsel, Robert Hur, investigates Biden's handling of classified records dating to his time as vice president. sThe documents were found last year at Biden's former Washington office and his home in Delaware. Biden's lawyers have said the documents were handed over to government officials as soon as they were found.
    Even if Biden were found to have mishandled sensitive records, he would be unlikely to face criminal charges because of a long-standing Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Strauss said. "I think the most likely outcome of the special counsel's investigation of President Biden is a report that says something like, 'we would or would not have recommended an indictment were this not the president,'" Strauss said.
    Former Vice President Mike Pence also drew scrutiny over his retention of classified documents, but the Justice Department informed him last week that it had closed the investigation and would not charge him.  
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