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Trump indictment details records risks

The former president faces new felony charges

Records stored in a ballroom at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate Associated Press/Department of Justice

Trump indictment details records risks

On Friday afternoon, special counsel Jack Smith walked up to a podium decorated with the seal of the U.S. Department of Justice. He opened a black folder.

“Today an indictment was unsealed, charging Donald J. Trump with felony violations of our national security laws as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice,” Smith said. “We have one set of laws in this country and they apply to everyone. Applying those laws, collecting facts—that’s what determines the outcome of an investigation. Nothing more. And Nothing less.”

After just two minutes of remarks, Smith closed his folder, took no questions, and walked somberly off the stage.

Moments before Smith’s address, courts unsealed the 49-page indictment against former President Donald Trump and his personal valet, Walton Nauta, charging the leading Republican presidential candidate with 37 criminal counts. The case, filed with the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida, lists off a spectrum of offenses ranging from conspiracy to obstruct justice to false statements and representations.

Of the maximum penalties Trump is facing, the two most lenient carry separate sentences of five years behind bars. The eight most severe charges each individually carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. None of them have a minimum term of imprisonment.

The new case adds to Trump’s legal and political woes. He’s under a separate indictment accusing him of falsifying business records in New York—while also fending off an increasingly crowded field of Republican presidential contenders.

By far, the most pressing charges facing Trump are the 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information, a violation of U.S. Code Section 793.

Last August, the FBI raided Trump’s Florida estate. Images of police cars lining up outside of the Mar-a-Lago residence drew national attention, and Trump supporters across the country demanded to know why the raid had taken place. According to an affidavit released by the U.S. District Court of South Florida, the FBI had reason to believe Trump had classified information in his possession—something that would be illegal. As a result of the raid, the FBI collected hundreds of documents from the house. Those documents, the affidavit alleged, could be extremely sensitive, top-secret government information.

And according to Smith and his prosecution team, that’s exactly what they found.

“The classified documents Trump stored in his boxes included information regarding defense weapons capabilities for both the United States and foreign countries; nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the [U.S.] and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” the indictment reads.

The Department of Justice has multiple pending investigations into classified documents and the executive branch. Classified papers were also found at the homes of former Vice President Mike Pence and President Joe Biden. The Justice Department said this week that it has closed its investigation into Pence and would not file charges. A special counsel is still looking into Biden’s retention of classified records. The House Oversight Committee is conducting its own investigation.

Jim Long, a former special agent for the CIA, says the kinds of intelligence found in Trump’s home are among the most closely guarded pieces of information by the U.S. government. Special penalties and procedures exist to disincentivize the proliferation of classified information. Long recalls that he was instructed to be mindful of any documents he might have in his possession as a way to protect himself.

“When I retired from the bureau, security said to me, ‘Hey if later next week or five years from now you find [classified] documents, call us and return it,’” he told WORLD in August. He described Trump’s possession of the documents as concerning

“In order to even see them and talk about them you have to have [proper] classification and you have to have a need to know,” he said. “He has a duty when he separates from service to return any documents.”

Long noted that his views are his own and not a reflection of the CIA’s position.

Trump acknowledged the charges with a post on Truth Social. He denied charges and called the prosecution a “witch hunt.” Maintaining that the investigations were a product of a political attack, Trump expressed outrage.

“I have been summoned to appear at the Federal Courthouse in Miami.” Trump wrote. “I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former president of the United States … I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”

Following the release of the indictment, two of Trump's most senior defense lawyers resigned, stating that they would not comment on the ongoing legal battle. The former president publicly thanked them for their work and announced he would retain the services of Todd Blanche, a defense attorney who is also representing him in the ongoing criminal case in New York.

Trump has said that possession of the classified documents and their removal to his residence were within his right as a former president of the United States. Presidents have the power to declassify materials during their time in office but are unable to do so at any point following their exit from the presidency. Trump will appear before Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a judge he appointed, next Tuesday.

“We very much look forward to presenting our case before a jury,” Smith said.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


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