DOJ Indicts Trump on 37 Counts over Classified Documents
Hours after House Oversight Committee members declared that a document wrestled from the FBI did, in fact, implicate then-Vice President Joe Biden in a bribery scheme, that news was eclipsed by news that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had indicted former President Trump on seven criminal charges related to his retention of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. This marks the first time in U.S. history that a current or former U.S. president has been indicted on federal charges.
Trump himself announced the indictment Thursday evening on Truth Social, declaring, “The corrupt Biden Administration has informed my attorneys that I have been Indicted, seemingly over the Boxes Hoax. … I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States …. I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!” He also noted that classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president were also discovered in various unsecured locations and touted his polling strength.
Trump is the likely subject of two state criminal investigations and one other federal criminal investigation. In early April, a Manhattan grand jury indicted Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money to cover up an affair with adult film star Stephanie Clifford. That case, which is scheduled for trial in the middle of the presidential primary calendar, is extremely weak, multiple legal experts noted. Trump is also the subject of another federal investigation related to January 6 and a Georgia investigation related to his efforts to pressure state officials to declare him the winner in the 2020 presidential election.
The DOJ summoned Trump to appear at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Miami, which means that the case will be tried in the Southern District of Florida. The summons also indicates that the case will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, who was previously involved in the case when the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago last August to retrieve classified documents. A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit rebuked her oversight of that investigation, saying she overstepped her jurisdiction in Trump’s favor. Cannon was appointed by President Trump in 2020.
Trump attorney Jim Trusty, who resigned Friday, said Thursday on CNN that he believed, based on the summons, that the charges will be based on the Espionage Act and include obstruction charges, false-statement charges, and conspiracy charges. The 49-page indictment was unsealed around 2:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon.
According to the indictment, Trump faces 37 felony charges, including 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information, one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, one count of withholding a document or record, one count of corruptly concealing a document or record, one count of concealing a document in a federal investigation, one count of a scheme to conceal, and one count of false statements and representations.
Each count of willful retention pertains to a particular secret or top-secret document regarding foreign countries. For the other six charges of a more general nature, Trump was charged along with his aide Waltine Nauta, who the DOJ alleges conspired with Trump to conceal and mislead both his attorney and the U.S. government about the classified documents.
The indictment includes text message exchanges and witness testimony indicating that he actively interacted with the classified information in his possession and showed it to others on at least two occasions.
National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, noted that the DOJ’s decision to charge Trump under the Espionage Act, instead of the Presidential Records Act, “seems like an obvious effort to distinguish Trump’s alleged crime from President Biden’s mishandling of classified documents.” He explained that the Espionage Act “criminalizes willful violations of the rules that government officials are required to follow in handling national-defense intelligence.”
McCarthy believes federal prosecutors are seeking to distinguish Trump’s active refusal to return classified documents from the cases of former vice presidents Biden and Mike Pence, who both cooperated with federal authorities when classified information was discovered. Last week, the DOJ told Pence’s attorneys that “no criminal charges will be sought” related to classified documents discovered at his home.
Some Republicans weren’t buying the distinction. “Will the DOJ indict @joebiden next for the countless boxes he kept at home?” asked Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) agreed, “When you’ve got the former vice president, former senator and sitting president had, supposedly, the same type of documents … but you’re going after a guy who’s running for office, this is irrational.”
Others pointed out the inherent conflict of interest exhibited by a sitting president’s administration indicting his top rival in the upcoming election. “It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades,” said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) added, “Joe Biden is weaponizing his Department of Justice against his own political rival. This sham indictment is the continuation of the endless political persecution of Donald Trump.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), Trump’s leading challenger for the GOP presidential nomination, said, “We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation. Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?”
“Indicting Donald Trump is the culmination of what Merrick Garland has been pushing for since he became Attorney General,” said Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “The weaponization of our Department of Justice against enemies of the Biden admin will do enormous damage to the rule of law & have a lasting impact.”
Alarmed at what they believe to be a politically weaponized Department of Justice, House Republicans launched a special subcommittee to investigate its weaponization; since the subcommittee on weaponization was founded, the DOJ has regularly provided fresh examples of behavior Republicans see as partisan.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.